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 in a suspected smuggling incident, officials said.
“Every indication from our point of view was that it was a contraband ship,” Jeff Stephenson, a spokesman for US customs and border protection, said at a press conference on Sunday. afternoon. The alleged smuggler was in custody, he said.
The Coast Guard said four people were declared dead by local emergency medical service personnel and 25 others were injured, one in critical condition.
A Coast Guard cutter was to continue to search the waters in the area overnight.
Rick Romero, the City of San Diego’s lieutenant rescuer, said there was “a wide variety of injuries,” including hypothermia. Rescuers carried out seven water rescues and one cliff rescue. There was a major trauma and three CPRs at the scene. He said many people could walk to an ambulance.
“Our goal was just to save everyone we can from the water and get down to the beach and transport them safely to the hospital as quickly as possible,” Romero said.
The lieutenant said conditions in the ocean “were quite rough” with 5 to 6 feet of surf. He said the 40-foot cabin cruiser “slowly disintegrated” when it hit the ocean reef, and several people were sucked out to sea by the rip currents.
Officials have not disclosed the origin of the boat or the nationality of those involved in the accident. There was no manifesto on the ship, so it is impossible to know the total number of people on board, officials said.
Stephenson said the boat was not an open bow panga boat that is often used to smuggle people into the United States from Mexico. The captain was probably trying to blend in with the commercial shipping traffic in the area, he said.
“The smugglers don’t care about the people they exploit,” Stephenson said. “All they care about is profit. To them all these people are just commodities.”
A total of 96 staff members responded to the incident, officials said. Several agencies – including local rescuers, coast guard, US border protection, US Park Rangers and the US Department of the Interior – responded to the incident, officials said.
Officials said the emergency was located near the Cabrillo National Monument in Point Loma, about 130 miles south of Los Angeles. A federal investigation is underway.