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Suspected Human-Smuggling Boat Flounders Off Point Loma, Killing Three

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

Credit: AP Photo / Denis Poroy

Above: Wreckage and debris from a capsized boat washes ashore at Cabrillo National Monument near where a boat capsized just off the San Diego coast, May 2, 2021.

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Border Patrol officials said a boat that overturned in Point Loma Sunday, killing three people, was suspected of being part of a smuggling operation.

Aired: May 3, 2021 | Transcript

UPDATE: 3:55 p.m., May 3, 2021

An investigation was continuing Monday into an apparent human-smuggling operation involving a boat that overturned in coastal waters near Point Loma over the weekend, killing three people and injuring more than two dozen others.

A total of 29 people survived the ocean accident, according to the U.S. Coast Guard, which Monday morning suspended its efforts to locate any other victims at sea.

The accident happened about 10 a.m. Sunday when the 40-foot trawler-style vessel crashed into the shoreline near Cabrillo National Monument and capsized, according to the Border Patrol. All the occupants jumped in the water as the boat slowly disintegrated, a bystander's video showed.

"It was a smuggling vessel," U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Jeffery Stephenson told reporters. "Border Patrol agents are with a man we believe was the operator."

Migrant smugglers "don't care about the people they're exploiting," he said.

"All they care about is profit," Stephenson told news crews. "They had inadequate safety equipment, and obviously this vessel was severely overcrowded."

Reported by Max Rivlin-Nadler

City lifeguards responding to the emergency conducted seven water rescues and helped get one person off a seaside bluff, said James Gartland, lifeguard chief.

"This was a mass rescue operation that turned into a mass-casualty event," Gartland said.

There was one major trauma, and three people were treated with CPR, he said. One of the victims remained hospitalized in critical condition Monday morning, according to the Coast Guard.

Gartland said the accident was probably the worst he had seen in his 26 years in the lifeguard service.

"It's a tragic event here in San Diego," he said.

San Diego Fire-Rescue Department personnel, lifeguards, U.S. Coast Guard vessels and aircraft, and Customs and Border Protection air support were still in the area Sunday night searching for other possible victims.

The people who were rescued were taken to various hospitals, including Sharp Memorial, Palomar Medical Center West, Alvarado, UCSD Medical Center in Hillcrest, Grossmont Hospital, Kaiser Clairemont Mesa, Kaiser Zion and Paradise Valley Hospital, according to the SDFRD.

On Monday afternoon, the Mexican Consulate General in San Diego said in a statement that the majority of the survivors were Mexican nationals and that almost all of the ship's occupants were between the ages of 18 and 40. The consulate is currently determining whether two of the people rescued are minors.

Nearly 100 personnel were assigned to the rescue, including medics, fire engine crews and a chaplain.

The cause of the accident was under investigation.

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