A suspected human smuggling boat capsized off the coast of San Diego on Sunday morning. At least four passengers have died and more than 20 are hospitalized.
The accident occurred right off the coast of San Diego, Calif. at around 10:27 a.m. According to officials, the boat overturned after hitting a reef, and the passengers were forced to swim ashore in water cold enough to cause hypothermia. By the time help arrived, the 40-foot cabin cruiser had been broken apart entirely.
“The boat was on the reef bouncing back and forth and then just slowly disintegrated into a bunch of pieces,” Lieutenant Romero said after being asked what happened. “So there’s no boat there. It’s all debris.”
Most of the 29 passengers made it to shore injured, but six were pulled back out to sea by strong currents. Thankfully, the coast guard, federal fire, and local fire department could save them and bring them into the hospital. Still, there have been four deaths so far, and the Mayor of the area, Todd Gloria, tweeted for “San Diegans to keep the boat’s passengers in your prayers.”
Since the accident officials have confirmed that this boat was likely being used to smuggle immigrants over the border. Their names, ages, and genders have not been released due to privacy laws, but the Captain was taken into custody and questioned by Border Patrol. Officials have not been able to determine the nationalities of the people on board the boat, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Supervisory Agent Jeff Stephenson told reporters.
“I would have thought there were four people on that boat, you know there weren’t a lot of people, four to six people on that boat,” witness Michael Jacobson said. “And then all of a sudden, bodies just started coming up and jumping off, and it started tipping, tipping quite a bit.”
Stephenson said they believe it was a smuggling boat. “[Smugglers] don’t care about the people they’re exploiting, all they care about is profit. To them, these people are just commodities,” he said.
Despite the dangers of crossing the border through the California shore, this is far from the first time this has happened. Just last Thursday, 21 Mexicans were intercepted off the coast of Point Loma and were brought to Border Patrol for processing. The group was noticed for their lack of navigation lights and for having a packed “panga” type vessel. As of now two of the smugglers aboard are facing federal charges.
These incidents come three months after President Biden’s inauguration and have people wondering when he will begin implementing his immigration reform. Vice President Harris has received heat for putting off a visit to the Southern U.S. border, and neither one has made a statement on the suspected smuggling vessel.
“We’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of maritime smuggling attempts recently,” said Chief Patrol Agent Aaron Heitke with CBP’s San Diego sector. “All of these illegal crossings at sea are inherently dangerous, and we have seen too many turn from risky to tragic as smugglers sacrifice the safety of those on board for the sake of profits.”