In what officials believe was a smuggling operation, a boat off the coast of San Diego flipped Sunday morning, May 2, killing four people and injuring 24 others, one critically.
Around noon, boats and planes were still searching the water near the Cabrillo National Monument for other potential survivors.
According to the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department, local lifeguards, the US Coast Guard, and other agencies responded around 10:30 a.m. to reports of an overturned vessel near the Point Loma peninsula.
@SDLifeguards and SDFD firefighters at Cabrillo Monument on the overturned vessel incident. 24 persons were on board. Many patients transported to hospitals. @USCG Fed Fire & many other agencies assisting. pic.twitter.com/jGbfnaRbJh
— SDFD (@SDFD) May 2, 2021
San Diego Lifeguard Services Lt. Rick Romero stated that authorities discovered three bodies in the surf. He said one person was rescued from a cliff, and 22 others made it to shore.
“Once we arrived on scene, the boat had basically been broken apart,” Romero said. “Conditions were pretty rough: 5 to 6 feet of surf, windy, cold.”
Homeland Security spokesperson Jose Ysea said 27 people were taken to hospitals with “varying degrees of injuries.” The majority of people were able to walk to ambulances on their own.
The boat’s captain is said to be in detention and speaking with investigators. It is still unknown where the passengers on board originated from.
The group was traveling in a low-slung panga, a type of boat commonly used for smuggling.
Last Thursday, Customs and Border Protection agents stopped a panga 11 miles off the coast of Point Loma, carrying 21 Mexican people accused of attempting to reach the United States illegally, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. All 21 people were arrested, with two of them charged with smuggling.
The incident on Sunday was described as a “suspected maritime smuggling event” by Chief Patrol Agent Aaron M. Heitke.
Ongoing rescue efforts related to a suspected maritime smuggling event. https://t.co/ka1uqH4kbu
— Chief Patrol Agent Aaron M. Heitke (@USBPChiefSDC) May 2, 2021
Jen Campbell, a member of the City Council who serves the area, said her office was keeping an eye on the situation and that her “thoughts are with those impacted.”
My office is monitoring the incident off the coast of Point Loma this morning and while we wait for an official update, my thoughts are with those impacted and the many emergency personnel responding to the scene. https://t.co/FTBqbzimJR
— Council President Jennifer Campbell (@CMJenCampbell) May 2, 2021
“The reality is crossing the border illegally is unsafe no matter the method, especially at sea,” Supervisory Border Patrol Agent Jeff Stephenson said during an afternoon press conference.
“The smugglers, they don’t care about the people they’re exploiting. All they care about is profit. To them, these people are just commodities,” Stephenson said.
On Friday, the Border Patrol announced that operations to disrupt maritime smuggling off the coast of San Diego would be ramped up this weekend. The agency said that there is a misconception that as the weather warms up in San Diego, it would make illegal crossings safer or easier.