The captain of a suspected smuggling vessel has been arrested after the craft overturned Sunday morning off the coast of San Diego, killing three people.
The U.S. Coast Guard said the 29 others on board survived the accident after the boat hit a reef in Point Loma and broke apart. Five were still in the hospital as of Tuesday morning, and one was in critical condition.
CBP suspects the boat was part of a smuggling operation
At a news conference on Sunday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said the 40-foot cruiser is believed to be part of a smuggling operation. CBP agent Jeff Stephenson said 27 of the survivors were Mexican nationals who were not eligible to enter the U.S. legally.
Those individuals ranged in age from 15 to 39, and the 15-year-old boy was an unaccompanied minor. The CBP said one other survivor was from Guatemala, also with no legal status to enter the country. The captain, whose name was not released as of Tuesday, is a U.S. citizen.
Multiple first responders rushed to the scene
The Coast Guard, firefighters and lifeguards responded around 10:30 a.m. Sunday after news broke over the capsized boat. The responders rescued six individuals from the dangerous five-to-six-foot surf while others swam or walked to shore.
Officials said the water’s temperature was 60 degrees, which made hypothermia a threat to those who remained in the water for an extended period. Eyewitnesses said the vessel was pounded against the reef until it disintegrated into several pieces.
The vessel was severely overloaded
The CBP said the boat was larger than most of the smuggling boats they usually encounter but stated overcrowding is a common factor regardless of the size. The agency had issued a press release one day before the accident, saying it was cracking down on maritime smuggling efforts off the coast of San Diego over the weekend.
The CBP said all these illegal crossings into the U.S. are inherently dangerous as smugglers sacrifice safety for profit. The people trying to enter the country illegally are usually not told of the dangers they are exposed to on such journeys. Most of the time, they end up far out in the ocean without adequate food and water and lack safety precautions or protection against the elements.