At least 4 killed and 25 injured when overcrowded boat overturns off San Diego coast in apparent smuggling operation
At least four people were killed and 25 others injured when a “severely overcrowded” boat they were on overturned Sunday morning off the coast of San Diego during a suspected smuggling incident, officials said.
“Every indication from our perspective was this was a smuggling vessel,” Jeff Stephenson, a spokesperson for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said at a Sunday afternoon press conference. The suspected smuggler was in custody, he said.
The Coast Guard said four people were declared dead by local emergency medical services personnel and 25 others were hurt, including one in critical condition.
A Coast Guard cutter was to continue searching area waters overnight.
Rick Romero, a lifeguard lieutenant with the city of San Diego, said there were a “wide variety of injuries,” including hypothermia. Lifeguards made seven water rescues and a cliff rescue. There was one major trauma and three CPRs at the scene. He said many people were able to walk themselves to an ambulance.
“Our goal was just to rescue everyone we can from the water and down along on the beach and get them up safely transported to the hospital as quickly as we can,” Romero said.
The lieutenant said the conditions in the ocean “were pretty rough” with 5 to 6 feet of surf. He said the 40-foot cabin cruiser “slowly disintegrated” as it hit the ocean reef, and there were several people who were sucked out to sea by rip currents.
Officials would not reveal the origin of the boat or the nationalities of those involved in the accident. There was no manifest on the vessel so it’s impossible to know the total number of people onboard, officials said.
Stephenson said the boat wasn’t an open-bow panga boat that is often used for smuggling people illegally into the U.S. from Mexico. The captain was likely trying to blend into commercial maritime traffic in the area, he said.
“The smugglers don’t care about the people they are exploiting,” Stephenson said. “All they care about is profit. To them, all these people are are just commodities.”
A total of 96 personnel responded to the incident, officials said. Multiple agencies — including local lifeguards, the Coast Guard, U.S. Border Protection, U.S. Park Rangers and U.S. Department of the Interior — responded to the incident, officials said.
Officials said the emergency was located near the Cabrillo National Monument in Point Loma, some 130 miles south of Los Angeles. A federal investigation is underway.
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