A vessel authorities believe was illegally smuggling migrants into the U.S. capsized Sunday off the coast of San Diego with at least 30 people on board, leading to three deaths, authorities said.
The accident came as border authorities increase efforts to combat what they say is a surge of migrants trying to enter the U.S. illegally by sea.
The first call for help on Sunday came in shortly before 10 a.m. local time from a commercial assistance vessel reporting a boat near the surfline that appeared to be in trouble, authorities said. That boat, described as a 40-foot cabin cruiser, overturned and broke apart near the Cabrillo National Monument, which sits at the southern tip of the Point Loma Peninsula in San Diego.
Local and federal authorities responded to a chaotic scene as the passengers scrambled for safety in cold and rough waters. Some people made it to shore, said Rick Romero, a lifeguard lieutenant with the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department.
But others were in the water, drowning, getting sucked into the rip current, he said during a press conference.
Rescuers pulled about seven people from the waves, and three people died, he said. Many others were sent to local hospitals.
The nationality and ages of the people on the vessel couldn’t be determined. Authorities said the boat captain was in custody.
“Every indication from our perspective is that this was a smuggling vessel used to smuggle migrants into the United States illegally,” said Jeff Stephenson, a supervisory Border Patrol agent in the U.S. Border Patrol’s San Diego sector.
The accident came two days after law-enforcement officials announced a plan to increase operations over the weekend to try to disrupt migrant smuggling by water in the San Diego area. On Thursday, Border Patrol said agents captured a wooden boat known as a panga, packed with 21 people, 11 miles off Point Loma.
People are typically apprehended trying to cross the land border between the U.S. and Mexico, and migrant deaths there are common. But the number of maritime apprehensions has surged in recent years, Mr. Stephenson said at the press conference.
Between fiscal 2019 and fiscal 2020, the San Diego sector saw 1,273 maritime arrests, a 92% increase, federal data show. There have been at least 909 more maritime arrests in the current fiscal year, which runs through September.
Mr. Stephenson said smugglers pack people into overcrowded vessels, often with inadequate safety features.
“The reality is crossing the border illegally is unsafe no matter the method,” he said.
—Alicia A. Caldwell contributed to this article.
Write to Jon Kamp at email@example.com
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Appeared in the May 3, 2021, print edition as ‘Migrants’ Boat in Deadly Wreck Off San Diego.’
Source: WSJ – US News