Skip to main content

LATEST UPDATES: Tracking COVID-19 | Vaccines | Racial Justice

4 Dead, Dozens Injured After Suspected Smuggling Boat Capsizes Near San Diego

Photo caption:

Photo by Denis Poroy AP

Wreckage from a capsized boat washes ashore at Cabrillo National Monument near where a boat capsized off the San Diego coast Sunday. Authorities say three people were killed and two dozen others injured.

Updated May 3, 2021 at 1:38 AM ET

Four people are dead and dozens injured after a suspected human smuggling boat capsized and split into pieces off the coast of San Diego Sunday.

"Twenty-nine people have reportedly been accounted for, consisting of twenty-four people alive, four people declared deceased by local emergency medical services personnel and one person who was last reported to be in critical condition," according to the U.S. Coast Guard statement that was issued shortly before 11:30 p.m. ET Sunday.

The Coast Guard says it will continue to search the waters off the coast of San Diego throughout the night.

In an earlier Sunday news conference, authorities said the boat broke apart after colliding with a reef.

"It's a tragic event," said the city's lifeguard chief, James Gartland, adding that it's probably one of the worst tragedies he's seen in his 26-year career.

The San Diego Fire-Rescue Department, local lifeguards, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Border Patrol and other agencies responded to reports of an overturned vessel near the peninsula of Point Loma Sunday morning, close to the shoreline surrounding the Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego.

San Diego Lifeguard Lt. Rick Romero said the "wide variety" of injuries range from hypothermia to wounds sustained in the boat crash.

Authorities said they assume the journey was "illegal migration."

"Every indication from our perspective is that this was a smuggling vessel," said Jeff Stephenson, supervisory Border Patrol agent, who said the boat was "severely overcrowded."

The person believed to be operating the boat, a suspected smuggler, is in custody now, officials said.

After facing waves 5-6 feet high and rocking into the reef, Romero said the 40-foot cabin cruiser "slowly disintegrated into a bunch of pieces. It's just debris now."

Border Patrol agent Stephenson said there's been a steady increase in maritime apprehensions this year. Between October 2019 and September 2020, the number of those apprehensions jumped by 92% — about 1,200 more than the previous fiscal year.

He believes the boat was attempting to blend in with commercial vessels.

The ages and nationalities of those aboard the boat are currently unknown, authorities said.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit


San Diego News Now podcast branding

San Diego news; when you want it, where you want it. Get local stories on politics, education, health, environment, the border and more. New episodes are ready weekday mornings. Hosted by Anica Colbert and produced by KPBS, San Diego and the Imperial County's NPR and PBS station.

  • Need help keeping up with the news that matters most? Get the day's top news — ranging from local to international — straight to your inbox each weekday morning.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Curious San Diego banner

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or sign up for our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.