SAN DIEGO (AP) – A packed boat used in an alleged human smuggling operation capsized on Sunday and crashed into a powerful surf on the rocky shores of San Diego, killing three people and injuring more than two dozen others, authorities said.
Rescuers, the U.S. Coast Guard and other agencies responded around 10:30 a.m. after reports of a ship capsizing in the waves near the rugged Point Loma Peninsula, the San Diego Fire and Rescue Service said.
The initial call was for a handful of people overboard, but as rescuers arrived in boats and jets, they quickly realized that “there will be a bigger situation with more people,”
“There are people in the water who are drowning, sucking out the tearing current there,” he said.
Seven people were pulled from the waves, including three who drowned, Romero said. One man was rescued from a cliff and 22 others managed to reach the shore on their own, he said.
“After we arrived at the scene, the boat was generally wrecked,” Romero said. “The conditions were pretty tough: 5 to 6 feet of surfing, windy, cold.”
A total of 27 people were transported to hospitals with “a wide variety of injuries,” including hypothermia, Romero said. Most of the victims managed to walk to ambulances, he said.
Officials said the group was overcrowded with a 40-meter (12-meter) cabin cruiser, which is larger than typical open-top wooden panga boats, often used by smugglers to smuggle people into the United States from Mexico. .
“Any indication from our point of view is that this is a smuggled ship. We have not confirmed their nationality, “said Jeff Stevenson, a supervisory agent on the US Border Patrol.
According to a pandemic-related order effective from March 2020, migrants from Mexico and people from the Central American countries of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, taken to the border, are immediately deported to Mexico without the opportunity to seek asylum. President Joe Biden released unaccompanied children from expulsion, but the majority of adults return quickly without facing consequences.
Border patrol agents went to hospitals to interview the survivors of the rollover, including the captain of the boat, whom Stevenson identified as a “suspected smuggler.” Smugglers usually face federal fees, and those who are smuggled are usually deported.
San Diego Fire and Rescue Department spokesman Jose Ysea said that when he arrived at the site near the Cabrillo National Monument, there was a “large field of debris” from broken trees and other objects in the exciting waters.
“It’s very rocky in this area of Point Loma. “Probably the waves just hit the boat, breaking it,” he said.
There were lifeguards on board, but it was not known how many or whether the passengers were carrying them, officials said.
Among the rescuers was an unnamed Navy sailor who was in the area with his family and jumped into the water to help someone in an effort described by Romero as “huge help.”
Officials believed everyone on board was reported immediately, but crews in boats and planes continued to search the area for several hours for other possible survivors, Ysea said.
On Thursday, border guards intercepted a panga-like ship traveling without navigation lights 18 miles off the coast of Point Loma with 21 people on board. The crew took all 15 men and six women into custody. Agents found that all were Mexican citizens without legal status to enter the United States, according to a statement issued by Customs and Border Protection. Two of the people on the boat, suspected of smuggling, will face charges, the statement said.
A border patrol said Friday that law enforcement officials will step up operations to stop maritime smuggling off the coast of San Diego this weekend.
With warmer weather in San Diego, there is a misconception that this will make illegal crossings safer or easier, the agency said in a statement.
In early March, an SUV full of migrants collided with a trailer in the agricultural community of Holtville, California, about 200 miles (200 kilometers) east of San Diego. The crash killed 13 of the 25 people on the Ford Expedition in 1997, including the driver, in one of the deadliest border-related crashes in US history.
Weber reports from Los Angeles.