The U.S. Coast Guard on Monday suspended its response to a capsized vessel that broke apart in turbulent waters off the coast of San Diego. A total of 32 people were accounted for after a “heavily overcrowded” boat capsized Sunday morning on suspicion of smuggling, officials said.
“Yesterday, we were again reminded of how dangerous these smuggling attempts can be, and we will continue to work with our local, state and federal partners to prevent, detect and respond to cases like this to keep San Diego waters safe and sound. for sure, “said Captain Timothy Barelli of the Coast Guard.
29 people survived, five of whom were hospitalized, the Coast Guard said Monday. One remains in critical condition. Three people were pronounced dead by San Diego County medical examination. The Coast Guard said earlier that four people were dead.
A Coast Guard cutter had searched the area̵
“Any indication from our point of view was that this was a smuggling vessel,” Jeff Stephenson, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, told a news conference Sunday afternoon. The suspected smuggler was in custody, he said.
Rick Romero, a lifeguard in the city of San Diego, said there was a “wide range of injuries,” including hypothermia. Lifeguards made seven water rescues and rescued a cliff. There was a major trauma and three CPRs at the scene. He said many people were able to walk to an ambulance themselves.
“Our goal was just to save everyone we can from the water and down the beach and get them up safely transported to the hospital as fast as we can,” Romero said.
The lieutenant said the conditions in the sea “were quite rough” with 5 to 6 feet of surf. He said the 40-foot cabin cruise “slowly disintegrated” as it hit the ocean reef and more people were sucked out to sea by rip currents.
Officials do not reveal the origin of the boat or the nationalities of those involved in the accident. There was no manifesto on the ship, making it impossible to know the total number of people on board, officials said.
Stephenson said the boat was not an open-bow panga boat often used to smuggle people illegally to the United States from Mexico. The captain was probably trying to interfere in commercial maritime traffic in the area, he said.
“The smugglers don’t care about the people they exploit,” Stephenson said. “All they care about is profit. For them, all these people are just goods.”
A total of 96 employees responded to the incident, officials including staff from the Coast Guard, U.S. Border Protection, U.S. Park Rangers and the U.S. Department of Interior 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. Smugglers typically face federal charges, and those smuggled are usually deported, according to The Associated Press.