4 killed, 27 hurt when ‘human smuggling’ boat capsizes off San Diego coast

Four people were killed and more than two dozen others were hospitalized Sunday after a boat capsized and broke apart in rough water just off the San Diego coast during a suspected human smuggling operation, authorities said.

Video footage shot by horrified beachgoers shows the boat tipping over in the water before breaking apart as it was battered by the waves and rocks.

Lifeguards, the U.S. Coast Guard and other agencies responded around 10 a.m. following reports of an overturned vessel in the waves near the rugged peninsula of Point Loma, according to the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department.

The original call was for a handful of people overboard but as rescuers arrived in boats and jet skis they quickly realized ‘it was going to be a bigger situation with more people,’ said San Diego Lifeguard Services Lt. Rick Romero.

‘There are people in the water, drowning, getting sucked out the rip current there,’ he said. ‘Once we arrived on scene, the boat had basically been broken apart. Conditions were pretty rough: 5 to 6 feet of surf, windy, cold.’

Boats and aircraft were still searching around midday for other possible survivors in the water near the Cabrillo National Monument, the department said. 

Four people were killed and nearly two dozen others were hospitalized after a boat capsized Sunday just off the San Diego coast

Four people were killed and nearly two dozen others were hospitalized after a boat capsized Sunday just off the San Diego coast

Four people were killed and nearly two dozen others were hospitalized after a boat capsized Sunday just off the San Diego coast

This handout image released by the San Diego Fire Department via their official Twitter account (@SDFD) shows debris on the shore after a boat capsized off the coast of San Diego

This handout image released by the San Diego Fire Department via their official Twitter account (@SDFD) shows debris on the shore after a boat capsized off the coast of San Diego

This handout image released by the San Diego Fire Department via their official Twitter account (@SDFD) shows debris on the shore after a boat capsized off the coast of San Diego

Part of the wreckage of a boat that capsized can be seen washing ashore near Point Loma

Part of the wreckage of a boat that capsized can be seen washing ashore near Point Loma

Part of the wreckage of a boat that capsized can be seen washing ashore near Point Loma

The image above shows debris washing ashore just off the coast of San Diego on Sunday

The image above shows debris washing ashore just off the coast of San Diego on Sunday

The image above shows debris washing ashore just off the coast of San Diego on Sunday

Items from a boat sit on the shoreline at Cabrillo National Monument near where it capsized just off the San Diego coast on Sunday

Items from a boat sit on the shoreline at Cabrillo National Monument near where it capsized just off the San Diego coast on Sunday

Items from a boat sit on the shoreline at Cabrillo National Monument near where it capsized just off the San Diego coast on Sunday

Seven people were pulled from the waves, while one person was rescued from a cliff and 22 others managed to make it to shore on their own, Romero said.

The Coast Guard later said four people had drowned in the tragedy. 

A total of 27 people were transported to hospitals with ‘a wide variety of injuries’ including hypothermia, Romero said. Most of the victims were able to walk themselves to ambulances, he said.

Officials said the group was overcrowded on a 40-foot cabin cruiser that is larger than the typical open-top wooden panga-style boats often used by smugglers to bring people illegally into the U.S. from Mexico.

San Diego Lifeguard Lt. Rick Romero speaks at a news conference held after a boat capsized just off the San Diego coast on Sunday

San Diego Lifeguard Lt. Rick Romero speaks at a news conference held after a boat capsized just off the San Diego coast on Sunday

Supervisory Border Patrol agent Jeff Stephenson speaks at a news conference held after a boat capsized just off the San Diego coast. Authorities say four people were killed and nearly two dozen others were hospitalized after the boat capsized

Supervisory Border Patrol agent Jeff Stephenson speaks at a news conference held after a boat capsized just off the San Diego coast. Authorities say four people were killed and nearly two dozen others were hospitalized after the boat capsized

San Diego Lifeguard Lt. Rick Romero (left) and Supervisory Border Patrol agent Jeff Stephenson (right)  speak at a news conference held after the boat capsized just off the San Diego coast on Sunday

Rescue workers use a San Diego Lifeguard cliff rescue vehicle to extricate a patient up to street level after a boat capsized off the coast

Rescue workers use a San Diego Lifeguard cliff rescue vehicle to extricate a patient up to street level after a boat capsized off the coast

Rescue workers use a San Diego Lifeguard cliff rescue vehicle to extricate a patient up to street level after a boat capsized off the coast

Wreckage and debris from a capsized boat washes ashore at Cabrillo National Monument

Wreckage and debris from a capsized boat washes ashore at Cabrillo National Monument

Wreckage and debris from a capsized boat washes ashore at Cabrillo National Monument

Authorities say four people were killed and 27 others are hospitalized after the boat capsized

Authorities say four people were killed and 27 others are hospitalized after the boat capsized

Authorities say four people were killed and 27 others are hospitalized after the boat capsized

‘Every indication from our perspective was this was a smuggling vessel. We haven´t confirmed their nationality,’ said Jeff Stephenson, a supervising agent with U.S. Border Patrol.

Since the vessel capsized in federal waters, the incident will be investigated by federal agencies.  

The San Diego Fire-Rescue Department told The San Diego Union-Tribune that lifeguards pulled 25 victims from the water.

Five of them were in ‘CPR status’ – meaning they were having trouble breathing. 

The overcrowded smuggling boat capsized on Sunday off the California coast. Those aboard the 40-foot vessel jumped into the choppy water as it slowly disintegrated

The overcrowded smuggling boat capsized on Sunday off the California coast. Those aboard the 40-foot vessel jumped into the choppy water as it slowly disintegrated

The overcrowded smuggling boat capsized on Sunday off the California coast. Those aboard the 40-foot vessel jumped into the choppy water as it slowly disintegrated

Debris is littered along the shoreline off Cabrillo Monument on May 2nd in San Diego

Debris is littered along the shoreline off Cabrillo Monument on May 2nd in San Diego

Debris is littered along the shoreline off Cabrillo Monument on May 2nd in San Diego

A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter flies over boats searching the area where a boat capsized just off the San Diego coast on Sunday in San Diego

A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter flies over boats searching the area where a boat capsized just off the San Diego coast on Sunday in San Diego

A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter flies over boats searching the area where a boat capsized just off the San Diego coast on Sunday in San Diego

A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter flies over boats searching the area where the tragedy occured

A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter flies over boats searching the area where the tragedy occured

A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter flies over boats searching the area where the tragedy occured

Agents were at hospitals preparing to interview survivors, including the boat´s captain who Stephenson described as a ‘suspected smuggler.’ 

Smugglers typically face federal charges and those being smuggled are usually deported.

Officials said smugglers sometimes use larger, more conventional boats to try and blend in with regular maritime traffic.

San Diego Fire-Rescue Department spokesman Jose Ysea said when he arrived on scene near the Cabrillo National Monument there was a ‘large debris field’ of splintered wood and other items in the choppy waters.

Parts of the boat can be seen washed up along the shoreline

Parts of the boat can be seen washed up along the shoreline

Parts of the boat can be seen washed up along the shoreline

Parts of the disintegrated boat could be seen littering the rocks

Parts of the disintegrated boat could be seen littering the rocks

Parts of the disintegrated boat could be seen littering the rocks 

Boats and aircraft were still searching around midday for other possible survivors in the water near the Cabrillo National Monument

Boats and aircraft were still searching around midday for other possible survivors in the water near the Cabrillo National Monument

Boats and aircraft were still searching around midday for other possible survivors in the water near the Cabrillo National Monument

Video from eyewitnesses went viral on social media and shows debris washing ashore at Point Loma

Video from eyewitnesses went viral on social media and shows debris washing ashore at Point Loma

Video from eyewitnesses went viral on social media and shows debris washing ashore at Point Loma

‘In that area of Point Loma it´s very rocky. It´s likely the waves just kept pounding the boat, breaking it apart,’ he said.

There were life preservers on board, but it wasn´t known how many or whether any passengers were wearing them, officials said.

Among the rescuers was an unnamed Navy sailor who was in the area with his family and jumped in the water to assist someone in an effort described by Romero as a ‘huge help.’

Officials believed everyone on board was accounted for right away, but crews in boats and aircraft continued to search the area for several hours for other possible survivors, Ysea said. 

According to Customs and Border Protection, there were a record 309 ‘maritime smuggling events’ during fiscal year 2020. 

So far during this fiscal year, CBP has recorded 157 smuggling attempts by sea.

On Friday, the CBP announced that federal law enforcement officials would beef up their maritime presence off the coast of San Diego to prevent attempts by smugglers to ferry undocumented migrants into the country.

‘We’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of maritime smuggling attempts recently,’ said Chief Patrol Agent Aaron Heitke of the Border Patrol’ San Diego Sector. 

‘All of these illegal crossings at sea are inherently dangerous, and we have seen too many turn from risky to tragic as smugglers sacrifice the safety of those on board for the sake of profits.’

Unidentified individuals above are seen near the area where the vessel capsized on Sunday morning

Unidentified individuals above are seen near the area where the vessel capsized on Sunday morning

Unidentified individuals above are seen near the area where the vessel capsized on Sunday morning

Local lifeguards, the US Coast Guard and other agencies responded around 10:30am following reports of an overturned vessel near the peninsula of Point Loma

Local lifeguards, the US Coast Guard and other agencies responded around 10:30am following reports of an overturned vessel near the peninsula of Point Loma

Local lifeguards, the US Coast Guard and other agencies responded around 10:30am following reports of an overturned vessel near the peninsula of Point Loma

The San Diego Fire-Rescue Department told The San Diego Union-Tribune that lifeguards pulled 25 victims from the water

The San Diego Fire-Rescue Department told The San Diego Union-Tribune that lifeguards pulled 25 victims from the water

The San Diego Fire-Rescue Department told The San Diego Union-Tribune that lifeguards pulled 25 victims from the water

The San Diego Fire-Rescue Department told The San Diego Union-Tribune that lifeguards pulled 25 victims from the water

The San Diego Fire-Rescue Department told The San Diego Union-Tribune that lifeguards pulled 25 victims from the water

CBP said that it boosted coastal patrols covering land, air, and sea in and around the Southern California region.

San Diego residents were warned that they would see an increased presence of law enforcement officials along the city’s beaches and marinas.

Locals were also informed that there would be a greater presence of helicopters in the air.

‘Safety of life at sea is our highest priority,’ said Captain Timothy Barelli, commander of the Coast Guard’s San Diego Sector.

‘Interdictions of suspected human smuggling at sea are as much rescues as they are law enforcement operations. There is grave risk of capsizing, hypothermia, and drowning.’ 

On Thursday, border officials intercepted a panga-type vessel traveling without navigation lights 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 U.S., 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.  

Authorities said the boat had no navigation lights as it sailed at night some 11 miles off the coast of Point Loma. 

The boat that capsized off the San Diego coast on Sunday is a 'panga' type vessel frequently used by smugglers to transport undocumented migrants into the United States. The image above shows a panga vessel that was intercepted at sea by US authorities 11 miles off the San Diego coastline on Thursday. Twenty-one people were on board. Two smugglers were arrested

The boat that capsized off the San Diego coast on Sunday is a 'panga' type vessel frequently used by smugglers to transport undocumented migrants into the United States. The image above shows a panga vessel that was intercepted at sea by US authorities 11 miles off the San Diego coastline on Thursday. Twenty-one people were on board. Two smugglers were arrested

The boat that capsized off the San Diego coast on Sunday is a ‘panga’ type vessel frequently used by smugglers to transport undocumented migrants into the United States. The image above shows a panga vessel that was intercepted at sea by US authorities 11 miles off the San Diego coastline on Thursday. Twenty-one people were on board. Two smugglers were arrested

Federal authorities have beefed up their presence along the San Diego coastline. They have warned that the choppy waters and treacherous conditions at sea pose a considerable risk to those being smuggled in the boats. The image above shows the intercepted panga from Thursday

Federal authorities have beefed up their presence along the San Diego coastline. They have warned that the choppy waters and treacherous conditions at sea pose a considerable risk to those being smuggled in the boats. The image above shows the intercepted panga from Thursday

Federal authorities have beefed up their presence along the San Diego coastline. They have warned that the choppy waters and treacherous conditions at sea pose a considerable risk to those being smuggled in the boats. The image above shows the intercepted panga from Thursday

‘As a constant reminder to the public, if you see something out of the ordinary near the coast, don’t hesitate to call authorities,’ said Heitke.

‘These vessels are dangerously overloaded and unsafe in the ever-changing ocean conditions. 

‘Smugglers exploit migrants and put lives in significant danger for their own profit.’ 

On Friday, police in Texas raided a home that was used to smuggle scores of undocumented migrants and keep them in horrible conditions while demanding ransom from relatives. 

More than 90 people were found in a house in southwestern Houston that investigators suspect was part of a human smuggling operation, police said Friday.

Authorities initially served a search warrant at the house after someone called police Thursday night to report a loved one was being held there, said Assistant Police Chief Daryn Edwards.

A special-tactics team entered the house, Edwards said, and found a large, huddled group of adults — five women and the rest men. The individuals told authorities they had not eaten in a while.

‘It was a big surprise when we got in the house and saw what we saw,’ Edwards said.

Officers asked health officials to test the captives for coronavirus infections after some complained of possible COVID-19 symptoms, including fever and loss of smell and taste sensations, Edwards said. 

Anybody who tested positive would likely be quarantined, he said.

Police continued to investigate who rented the home and how the individuals ended up inside.

Relatives of the smuggling victims claim they were ordered to pay money to free their loved ones from the ‘deplorable’ conditions. 

Flor Anderson, who lives close to the house in Houston, Texas, says the dilapidated property was raided on Friday after one of its occupants relatives called police to report the attempted extortion.  

Police in Houston were investigating a suspected kidnapping when they executed a search warrant and found 90 men and women inside a two-story home on Chessington Drive on Friday

Police in Houston were investigating a suspected kidnapping when they executed a search warrant and found 90 men and women inside a two-story home on Chessington Drive on Friday

Police in Houston were investigating a suspected kidnapping when they executed a search warrant and found 90 men and women inside a two-story home on Chessington Drive on Friday

Law enforcement officials in Houston are investigating a human smuggling case, where more than 90 undocumented immigrants were found inside a home on the 12200 block of Chessington Drive on Friday

Law enforcement officials in Houston are investigating a human smuggling case, where more than 90 undocumented immigrants were found inside a home on the 12200 block of Chessington Drive on Friday

Law enforcement officials in Houston are investigating a human smuggling case, where more than 90 undocumented immigrants were found inside a home on the 12200 block of Chessington Drive on Friday

A Homeland Security Investigations officer take a photograph of a man at the scene of a human smuggling case, where more than 90 undocumented migrants were found inside a home

A Homeland Security Investigations officer take a photograph of a man at the scene of a human smuggling case, where more than 90 undocumented migrants were found inside a home

A Homeland Security Investigations officer take a photograph of a man at the scene of a human smuggling case, where more than 90 undocumented migrants were found inside a home

After entering the property, officers were stunned to find the victims – 85 men, and five women – living in rooms lined with mattresses, with many of the people inside starving, thirsty and unable to walk. 

Five of the immigrants, most of whom are believed to have come from Central American, since tested positive for COVID-19, and have been put in isolation.  

Houston PD Assistant Chief Patricia Cantu told the Houston Chronicle that many of the immigrants complained of not having eaten in days. 

The startling discovery was made on Friday on Chessington Drive in Southeast Houston when cops were called to reports of a possible kidnapping. 

The youngest of those apprehended were in their early 20s with some of the immigrants telling police they had come from Central America.

No minors were found, with the youngest person there being in their 20s and the oldest in their late 30s.

The occupants of the house told officers that they had not eaten in some time.

The incident began unfolding Thursday night, when police received a call reporting a kidnapping.

Edwards said detectives worked through the night to get information on a location for the possible kidnapping victim. 

So far, no arrests have been made in connection with the suspected smuggling case but federal agents with Homeland Security Investigations are working to determine who is responsible for the smuggling operation.

The finding of so many immigrants crammed into the Texas home and the capsized vessel off the coast of San Diego will only add to questions over President Biden’s handling of the current border crisis.  

A massive influx of migrants, including record numbers of teenagers and children without their parents have been coming across the border. 

In March, 172,331 migrants were taken into custody by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The numbers are the highest recorded in 20 years. 

Investigators from the Department of Homeland Security have been on the scene to evaluate the possibility of human smuggling

Investigators from the Department of Homeland Security have been on the scene to evaluate the possibility of human smuggling

Investigators from the Department of Homeland Security have been on the scene to evaluate the possibility of human smuggling

A Homeland Security Investigations personnel escorts a man wearing handcuffs to a transport bus from a Houston home

A Homeland Security Investigations personnel escorts a man wearing handcuffs to a transport bus from a Houston home

A Homeland Security Investigations personnel escorts a man wearing handcuffs to a transport bus from a Houston home

The discovery at the southwest Houston home on Friday began with a tip about a possible kidnapping

The discovery at the southwest Houston home on Friday began with a tip about a possible kidnapping

The discovery at the southwest Houston home on Friday began with a tip about a possible kidnapping

Police responding to reports of a kidnapping said on Friday they had found more than 90 people crammed into a two-story suburban Houston home and suspected it was being used in a human smuggling operation

Police responding to reports of a kidnapping said on Friday they had found more than 90 people crammed into a two-story suburban Houston home and suspected it was being used in a human smuggling operation

Police responding to reports of a kidnapping said on Friday they had found more than 90 people crammed into a two-story suburban Houston home and suspected it was being used in a human smuggling operation

A White House official told CNN that the number of migrant children being held in jail-like conditions by CBP dropped nearly 84 per cent in the span of a month. 

As of Wednesday, there were 954 children in CBP facilities, down from a peak of 5,767 on March 28.

Additionally, Biden said because the Trump administration waited so long to cooperate with the presidential transition – due to Trump contesting the election results – his transition team was unable to get information it needed from the relevant government agencies.

‘We didn’t find out they had fire a whole lot of people that they were understaffed considerably,’ Biden said. 

He also said the Trump administration failed to plan for the seasonal upsurge that comes every spring.

‘They didn’t have beds that were available. They didn’t plan for the overflow,’ he said, arguing conditions for the kids, who have been put into overcrowded shelters with some sleeping on the floor, are better now.

President Biden continued to blame the Trump administration for the situation at the border; above immigrant families wait to be processed by U.S. Border Patrol agents after crossing the Rio Grande into South Texas

President Biden continued to blame the Trump administration for the situation at the border; above immigrant families wait to be processed by U.S. Border Patrol agents after crossing the Rio Grande into South Texas

President Biden continued to blame the Trump administration for the situation at the border; above immigrant families wait to be processed by U.S. Border Patrol agents after crossing the Rio Grande into South Texas

‘There’s a significant change right now, significant change in circumstance for children coming to and at the border,’ he said. 

According to CBP data, the number of immigrants apprehended along the southern border jumped from 96,974 in February to 168,195 in March. 

The last time single-month apprehensions were that high was in March of 2001.

Additionally in March, CBP apprehended 18,656 unaccompanied minors at the southern border, a record since at least October 2009 and double February’s numbers.

Republicans see the issue as one they can use to make in roads with voters in the 2022 midterms and have criticized Biden heavily on it, particularly for refusing to call the situation a ‘crisis.’ 

Biden used that word earlier this month when talking about the border but the White House quickly walked it back.      

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