Four people are dead and about two dozen individuals were hospitalized after a suspected smuggling vessel was overturned off the coast of San Diego this past weekend.
San Diego Fire-Rescue Department spokesperson Monica Munoz spoke with the local media about how they received reports of a vessel that overturned near the Cabrillo National Monument in Point Loma around 10:27 am on Sunday morning.
James Gartland is the lifeguard chief for San Diego who told reporters that it appeared the vessel hit the reef which caused it to break up, and about 30 people came out of the vessel.
“This was a mass rescue operation that turned into a mass casualty incident. By the time first responders arrived, the 40 foot cabin cruiser was broken apart.”
According to lifeguard lieutenant Rick Romero with San Diego Fire-Rescue, “there were 30 people on the boat, most made it to shore on their own but six people were rescued from the water after a rip current pulled them out to sea.”
“Our goal was to just rescue everyone we could, we even had a Navy staff member who just happened to be out with his family come and try to save people from the water.”
“Conditions were pretty rough — 5-6 feet of surf, windy, cold, the water’s around 60 degrees so you get hypothermic pretty quickly,” Romero said.
The San Diego Fire-Rescue Department said on its incident page: “we responded along with Federal Fire, US Coast Guard and other local agencies. Every indication, from our perspective, is that this was a smuggling vessel used to smuggle migrants into the United States illegally.”
More than 20 people have been transported to local hospitals “including Sharp Memorial, Palomar Medical Center West, Alvarado, UCSD Medical Center (Hillcrest), Grossmont Hospital, Kaiser Clairemont Mesa, Kaiser Zion and Paradise Valley Hospital.” The fire department said it “will not get any updates on the status of patients because of privacy laws.”
The individual operating the boat is currently in custody, and CBP announced this week that it would be increasing patrol operations to deter smugglers.
“We’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of maritime smuggling attempts recently. 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,” said Chief Patrol Agent Aaron Heitke with CBP’s San Diego sector.
According to Stephenson there has been a 92% increase in maritime apprehensions of smugglers this past year alone.
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.