Panga boat on Torrey Pines Beach
A panga boat; prosecutors allege that an Ecuadorian man owned similar vessels to service a drug-trafficking operation. Courtesy Border Patrol

The owner of several Ecuadorian vessels has been extradited to the U.S. to face charges of taking part in a drug-trafficking conspiracy, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said Friday.

The ships allegedly provided support to other boats transporting cocaine, prosecutors said.

Pedro Cornelio Pilligua Iduarte, 48, of Manabi, Ecuador, according to a federal grand jury indictment, participated in a trafficking operation aimed at moving “substantial quantities” of cocaine from South America to the U.S.

Investigators arrested Pilligua Iduarte in April in Madrid. He made his initial court appearance Friday in San Diego.

Prosecutors say the case is part of a multi-year investigation dubbed “Operation Pangeros Locos,” concerning Ecuadorian fishing vessels that provide fuel, replacement parts, communication devices and other resources to vessels moving cocaine from Colombia to Mexico.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office alleges that “without the support provided by the fishing vessel captains and owners, these drug-laden vessels, typically pangas or low-profile vessels, would not be able to complete this long journey.”

Thus far, 27 fishing vessel captains and owners have been indicted, and 65 crew members have been prosecuted. Authorities also seized more than 50,000 kilos of cocaine.

– City News Service