At least 8 dead as suspected human smuggling boats cross San Diego
“This is one of the worst maritime smuggling tragedies that I can think of in California, certainly here in the city of San Diego,” said James Gartland, the city’s chief lifeguard. , at a press conference Sunday morning.
Gartland said a Spanish-speaking woman called San Diego police Saturday night and said there were about 15 people on one of the boats and about eight people on the other.
Agencies including US Customs and Border Protection, US Coast Guard, local police and state and city lifeguards responded.
When rescuers rushed to the scene, they found eight bodies on the beach and in the water. Both boats were sunk, and several life jackets and fuel barrels were distributed.
No survivors have been found, leaving several people unaccounted for, including the woman who called 911. Authorities said search efforts are continuing. CBP is now investigating.
Captain James Spitler, commander of the San Diego Coast Guard division, said Sunday that at least 23 people have died at sea since 2021.
“The true number of deaths in the California coastal area is unknown,” he said.
“These boats are often overloaded, the maintenance is very poor,” he said. Smugglers try to take advantage of the area’s high cliffs and rocky outcrops as loading points, he said, but Saturday night’s foggy weather in particular made it difficult to navigate the waters. “It’s very challenging for anyone to work in these conditions. He’s probably one of the few sailors out there at sea.”
Federal authorities have not linked the boats to a specific human smuggling operation.
“I can’t speak to any specific agencies that are responsible for maritime smuggling, but our relationship is very strong with our partner agencies down there in Mexico,” said Eric Lavergne, supervisor Border Patrol special operations.
There has been a 771 percent increase in human trafficking in the Southern California coastal region since 2017, Spitler said. In recent months, the Biden administration has increased restrictions on illegal border crossings, leading to a sharp decline in illegal border crossings in January, according to a report from the Department of Homeland Security. However, stricter land enforcement along the US-Mexico border has contributed to a growing number of people trying to reach California by sea in recent years. finally, according to authorities.
Border Patrol spokesman Jason Givens warned Sunday about the dangers of illegally crossing the border by sea, saying the main concern of human smugglers is “what they’re going to get paid , not the welfare of individuals.”
“It is imperative for anyone who wants to use the services of these smuggling organizations to understand that they are putting their lives at risk,” Givens said in a statement to the Washington Post.
A fatal shipwreck in May 2021 showed the dangers of human smuggling operations through water. A 40-foot trawler-style boat carrying 32 people entered the United States off the coast of San Diego. Three Mexican migrants drowned and more than two dozen were injured.
The ship’s pilot, Antonio Hurtado, a US citizen, was sentenced to 18 years in prison last fall for the illegal smuggling of 32 migrants from Baja California, Mexico. That vessel struck rocks in bad weather near Point Loma, a peninsula that separates the Pacific Ocean from San Diego Bay, and broke apart, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Hurtado jumped off the ship, abandoning the passengers and making it safe to land. The migrants reportedly paid $15,000 to $18,000 each to bring them into the United States.
An increase of migrants from the Caribbean region has also been trying to sail to the United States on fragile, mobile boats. Many have made the perilous journeys to Florida through the Bahamas, mostly from countries such as Haiti and Cuba that have been ravaged by economic turmoil and political instability.
A series of ill-fated voyages in recent years have drawn attention to a growing migrant crisis in the Caribbean, where US and Bahamian authorities said last year they were finding ships every week with as many as 200 people on board.
Two sisters tried to reach the US by sea to be reunited with their mother. Only one of them made it.
The United Nations has estimated that at least 967 people died in the rough waters of the Caribbean between 2014 and 2021. US authorities have admitted that the number is likely to be much higher, warning migrants again not to take such initiatives and risk their lives.