At least three people were killed and 27 hospitalized after a suspected smuggling ship capsized off the coast of San Diego.


A suspected smuggling operation that resulted in at least three deaths off the coast of San Diego came after the border patrol, coast guard and other agencies warned that an alarming increase in maritime smuggling could have deadly consequences.

The agencies announced on Friday that they would allocate “additional resources” to coastal land, sea and air patrols – helicopters and planes – until Monday. These resources were tapped on Sunday as an overloaded cabin cruiser crashed into a stormy sea, prompting a gruesome rescue operation near the Cabrillo National Monument.

Rescuers found a large field for broken wood and personal belongings. Several people were snatched from the stormy waters.

“There were people drowning in the water, sucking rip electricity there,” said Lt. Col. Rick Romero of the San Diego Rescue Service. “The boat was generally wrecked.”

The death toll remains unclear on Monday. The Coast Guard said 29 people had been identified, including one man in critical condition, 24 who had suffered hypothermia or other injuries and four people who had been pronounced dead by emergency medical personnel. The forensic doctor’s office listed three dead, including a 41-year-old woman, a 35-year-old woman and a man of unknown age.

A suspected smuggler has been detained. Two days earlier, Chief Patrol Officer Aaron Heitke of the US Border Patrol, San Diego, warned of a “drastic increase” in attempts at sea smuggling.

“All of these illegal crossings at sea are inherently dangerous, and we have seen too many people turn from risky to tragic as smugglers sacrifice the safety of people on board for profit,” Heitke warned.

A boat in San Diego capsized: 3 dead, 27 hospitalized on suspicion of smuggling

Spring and summer bring more recreational boat traffic – and a misconception that warmer weather will make illegal crossings safer or easier, the agencies say. Heitke said San Diego residents will see an increase in various law enforcement and public safety agencies along the coast, including on beaches and marinas and in San Diego Bay.

A wooden panga boat traveling without navigation lights 11 miles offshore with 21 people on board was seized on Thursday. Two people face federal smuggling charges.

Michael Montgomery, chief of customs and border services for air and sea operations in San Diego, said trafficked people were not usually told how dangerous the trip was – that they could end up far out to sea in a small boat. without adequate food and water, safety equipment or protection against the elements.

Captain Timothy Barrelli, commander of the San Diego Coast Guard, said Friday that bans on suspected sea smugglers are as life-saving as law enforcement operations.

“There is a serious risk of overturning, hypothermia and drowning,” he said.

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Two days later, the worst-case scenario was realized.

“The reality is that crossing the border illegally is dangerous, regardless of the method, especially at sea, such as water temperatures,” said Jeff Stevenson, a border patrol supervisor, on Sunday. “Smugglers really don’t care about the people they exploit. They take care to arrange their own pocket for profit. “

Contribution: Elinor Aspegren, USA TODAY; Associated Press

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