US: Four dead after suspected migrant ‘smuggling vessel’ capsizes

The boat broke apart after flipping over off the coast of the city of San Diego in California.

Debris from a capsized boat washes ashore at Cabrillo National Monument off the San Diego coast [File: Denis Poroy/AP]
Debris from a capsized boat washes ashore at Cabrillo National Monument off the San Diego coast [File: Denis Poroy/AP]

Four people have died and two dozen were injured when a boat suspected of attempting to “smuggle” migrants into the United States capsized and broke apart off the coast of the state of California.

The 12-metre (26-foot) cabin cruiser – a smaller version of a yacht – was discovered overturned off Cabrillo National Monument at San Diego’s rugged Point Loma after emergency responders received calls at approximately 10am (17:00 GMT) on Sunday, the US Coast Guard said.

The boat had broken into pieces in the rough surf by the time emergency personnel arrived, according to Rick Romero, lifeguard lieutenant for San Diego Fire-Rescue.

“When we arrived on the scene… There were people in the water, drowning, getting sucked out of the rip current…” he told reporters.

“Once we arrived on scene, the boat had basically been broken apart,” Romero said. “Conditions were pretty rough: 5 to 6 feet of surf, windy, cold.”

Debris from a capsized boat suspected of smuggling undocumented migrants washes ashore at Cabrillo National Monument off the San Diego coast [Denis Poroy/AP]
Authorities said about 30 people were believed to be on the boat, with seven rescued from the water alive and most others making it to shore on their own.

Authorities told Reuters news agency at least four people had died.

‘Suspected smuggler’

Immigration officials called the boat’s captain, who was in custody, a “suspected smuggler”, adding that those trying to bring undocumented migrants into the US sometimes use larger more conventional boats, such as the cabin cruiser, to try to blend in with regular maritime traffic.

“Every indication from our perspective was this was a smuggling vessel,” said Jeff Stephenson, a supervising agent with the US Border Patrol.

The nationality of those board was not immediately known, Stephenson said.

All those on board are believed to be accounted for, officials said.

A US Coast Guard helicopter flies over boats searching the area where the boat capsized [Denis Poroy/AP]
There has been a marked increase in maritime smuggling in recent years amid increased enforcement along the US-Mexico land border, according to authorities.

US Border Patrol on Friday said law enforcement officials would be ramping up operations to disrupt maritime smuggling off the coast of San Diego over the weekend, an attempt to combat the misconception that as warmer weather comes to the area it will make illegal crossings safer or easier, the agency said in a statement.

On Thursday, border officials intercepted a panga-type vessel – an open fishing boat – travelling without navigation lights 18km (11 miles) off the coast of Point Loma with 21 people on board.

The crew took all 15 men and six women into custody. Agents determined all were Mexican citizens with no legal status to enter the US, according to a statement released by Customs and Border Protection.

Two of the people on the boat, the suspected smugglers, will face charges, it said.

Source: News Agencies

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