Two people were killed and nearly two dozen were taken to hospital after a wooden boat capsized Sunday during a possible human trafficking operation off the coast of San Diego, authorities said.
Local lifeguards, the U.S. Coast Guard and other agencies responded around 6 p.m. 10.30 PT after reports of a capsized ship near the Point Loma Peninsula, according to the San Diego Fire Department.
Ysea said when he arrived at the scene near the Cabrillo National Monument that there was a “large dirt field” of broken wood and other objects in the turbulent water.
“In that area of Point Loma, it is very rocky. It is likely that the waves just kept hitting the boat and breaking it apart, ”said Ysea.
He said it was possible, but not confirmed, that the group was packed in a low-slung panga boat, a type of small motorized ship often made of wood used by smugglers to bring people into the United States illegally from Mexico.
Officials believed everyone on board was accounted for, but crews in boats and planes continued to search the area for possible survivors, Ysea said.
The US Border Patrol did not immediately respond to requests for conversion. A news conference was scheduled.
The Border Patrol often sees pangas off San Diego, many crowded with about 20 passengers. Some have landed hundreds of miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border. Deaths are unusual, but not unprecedented.
On Thursday, border officials intercepted a panga-type vessel traveling without navigation lights 18 miles from Point Loma with 21 people on board. The crew took 15 men and six women into custody.
Agents determined that all were Mexican citizens without legal status to enter the United States, according to a statement released by Customs and Border Protection. Two of the people on the boat, the suspected smugglers, will be prosecuted.
Border Patrol said Friday that law enforcement officials will strengthen operations to disrupt maritime smuggling off the San Diego coast this weekend.
As warmer weather comes to San Diego, there is a misconception that it will make illegal crossings safer or easier, the agency said in a statement.