The U.S. Coast Guard on Monday halted its reaction to a capsized ship that crashed into troubled waters off the coast of San Diego. A total of 32 people were reported after a “heavily overcrowded” boat capsized on Sunday morning during an alleged smuggling incident, officials said.
“Yesterday it reminded us again of how dangerous these ocean smuggling attempts can be, and we will continue to work with our local, state and federal partners to prevent, detect and respond to cases like this to keep San Diego waters safe. and safe, “said Captain Timothy Barrelli of the Coast Guard.
Twenty-nine people survived, five of whom were hospitalized, the Coast Guard said Monday. One remains in critical condition. Three people were pronounced dead by a medical expert in San Diego County. Earlier, the Coast Guard said four people had died.
A Coast Guard boat searched the area̵
“Any indication from our point of view is that this is a smuggled ship,” Jeff Stevenson, a spokesman for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, told a news conference Sunday afternoon. The suspected smuggler was in custody, he said.
Rick Romero, a lieutenant in a San Diego lifeguard, said there was “a wide variety of injuries,” including hypothermia. Rescuers performed seven water rescue operations and a rock rescue. There was one major injury and three RPDs at the scene. He said many people could go to the ambulance on their own.
“Our goal was simply to save everyone we could from the water and down the beach and get them out safely, transported to the hospital as quickly as possible,” Romero said.
The lieutenant said ocean conditions “were quite severe” with 5 to 6 feet of surf. He said the 40-foot cabin cruiser was “slowly falling apart” when it hit the ocean reef, and there were several people being sucked into the sea by ripping currents.
Officials would not reveal the origin of the boat or the nationality of the participants in the incident. There was no manifesto on the ship, making it impossible to know the total number of people on board, officials said.
Stevenson said the boat was not an open-bow panga boat, which is often used to smuggle people from the United States from Mexico. The captain was probably trying to infiltrate commercial maritime traffic in the area, he said.
“Smugglers are not interested in the people they exploit,” Stevenson said. “All they care about is profit. For them, all these people are just goods.”
A total of 96 staff members responded to the incident, officials said, including staff from the Coast Guard, the U.S. Border Guard, the U.S. Rangers Park and the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Officials said the emergency was located near the Cabrillo National Monument in Point Loma, about 130 miles south of Los Angeles. A federal investigation is underway. Smugglers typically face federal charges, and those smuggled are usually deported, according to the Associated Press.