At least four people died and two dozes were injured when a suspected human smuggling boat hit a reef off the coast of San Diego, California on Sunday.
The story: The 40-foot cabin cruiser capsized and broke apart near Point Loma, a peninsula that separates the Pacific Ocean and San Diego Bay. The boat cracked apart and then slowly disintegrated into small pieces after it hit a reef, sending around 30 people who were on board into the water. Authorities said that the boat was overcrowded and that passengers did not have adequate safety equipment.
“When we arrived on the scene… There were people in the water, drowning, getting sucked out of the rip current…” Rick Romero, lifeguard lieutenant for San Diego Fire-Rescue, said, according to Reuters. “Conditions were pretty rough: 5 to 6 feet of surf, windy, cold.”
Photos taken at the scene of the boat incident today. 40’ cabin cruiser broke up along the rocks inside the surf line. The @SDLifeguards cliff rescue veh was used to extricate one patient up to street level. pic.twitter.com/lQ54UdBWBG
— SDFD (@SDFD) May 2, 2021
A large search and rescue operation was launched in which law enforcement agencies rushed to locate and rescue people who fell in the water. They performed CPR on some people who were pulled from the water, according to authorities. Some made it to the shore on their own.
At least four died and two dozens or more have been hospitalized. Officials described the injuries as wide-ranging and some passengers had hypothermia.
It still hasn’t been confirmed whether the boat was used to smuggle people into the U.S. but Border Patrol agent Jeff Stephenson said at a Sunday news conference that the probability is high.
“Every indication from our perspective is that this was a smuggling vessel, used to smuggle migrants into the United States illegally,” he said. “We haven’t confirmed the nationality of the people involved, but our agents are with many of them at the hospital and the man who we believe was the operator.”
Stephenson explained that usually, “the smugglers don’t really care about the people they’re exploiting. All they care about is profit … To them, these people are just commodities.”
Immigration officials further said that the captain of the boat was a “suspected smuggler.” He is now in custody.
Worth noting: Authorities say that the incident is a reminder of the dangers of crossing the border via sea.
“The ocean is inherently unsafe,” Stephenson said. “The reality is, crossing the border illegally is unsafe no matter the method, especially at sea, with water temperatures being what they are, and, as the lifeguards described, high surf. It’s a very dangerous scenario.”
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