Three people were killed and dozens hospitalised on Sunday after a boat capsized just off the San Diego coast during a suspected people smuggling operation.
The vessel overturned near Point Loma and broke apart after colliding with a reef, officials said.
San Diego lifeguard services’ Lt Rick Romero said there were 30 people on the boat, including the three who died. Seven people were rescued from the water, 22 made it to shore on their own while one person was rescued from a cliff, he said.
Mr Romero said a total of 27 people were taken to hospitals with “a wide variety of injuries” including hypothermia.
The San Diego Fire-Rescue Department said the rescue operations involved multiple agencies, including Federal Fire, US Coast Guard and Park Rangers. Mr Romero said a navy staff member, who was out with his family, also jumped in the water and tried to save people.
“Every indication from our perspective was this was a smuggling vessel used to smuggle migrants into the United States illegally,” said Jeff Stephenson, a supervising agent with US Border Patrol.
He said the nationalities of the people involved have not yet been confirmed. “Our agents are with many of them at the hospital and the man who we believe was the operator… the investigation is still unfolding,” he said.
Mr Stephenson also said the origin point of the boat was not yet know, but many smuggling boats come from Mexico's Baja coastline, according to BBC News. He said there has been a 92 per cent increase in maritime apprehensions of smugglers in 2020 as compared with the previous year.
San Diego Fire-Rescue Department spokesman Jose Ysea said when he arrived on the scene there was a “large debris field” of splintered wood and other items in the water, according to the Associated Press.
“In that area of Point Loma it’s very rocky. It’s likely the waves just kept pounding the boat, breaking it apart,” he said.
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