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

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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.

Speaker 1: 00:00 The coast guard has suspended its search for survivors. Following the crash of a suspected smuggling ship off the coast of point Loma, at least three are dead and two dozen are injured after strong winds and a rough current pulled the overcrowded vessel into the reef, causing it to break apart. While border patrol agents say the incident looks like maritime smuggling. They still don't know anyone, citizenship legal status in the U S or any other identifying information and are still investigating the full details of the crash. Joining me to discuss this tragic incident and where the investigation is now is San Diego union Tribune reporter David Hernandez. David, welcome. Thanks for having me. So bring us up to speed and tell us the latest information on this crash.

Speaker 2: 00:45 Yeah, so we're still trying to sort out the number of people who survived and the number of people who died at this point, we have confirmed that at least three people died, others were taken to the hospital. So we're trying to get some updates in terms of the status of their condition and that may be changing. And we're also trying to find out more information about, uh, their ages, their nationalities, and their genders. So we're trying to track all of that today and any, any other information about how this boat made it all the way to the coast of point Loma,

Speaker 1: 01:17 As we've just touched on border patrol agents said every indication leads them to believe this vessel was a smuggling boat, but how did they come to that conclusion when they've also said agents have not determined citizenship legal status in the U S or any other identifying information at this time?

Speaker 2: 01:34 So what they said is that the circumstances in this case line up with what usually happens when smugglers pack migraines into boats and send them across the border with Mexico. So in this case, actually it wasn't a [inaudible] or a [inaudible], um, which is a small fishing boat that smugglers typically use. But nevertheless, it was, um, a boat that was well overcrowded in this case about 30 people. So based on those circumstances, they said they have every indication to believe that this was, um, a smuggling vessel that was transporting migrants into the U S illegally.

Speaker 1: 02:14 So what led to the crash? Was it primarily harsh weather conditions or

Speaker 2: 02:18 Something else? What we do know is that the conditions were pretty rough as one lifeguard Lieutenant put it, it was windy and the waves were pretty strong. Another official said, you know, strong enough to slam a boat into, into the reef there along the Cabrio national monument. And so it sounds like the bow was drifting towards the shoreline, and eventually it kind of just got caught up in our rip current that was pretty strong and crashed into this reef. And then it just broke apart

Speaker 1: 02:47 CPB and other law enforcement agencies teamed up to patrol the coast this weekend. What prompted that decision?

Speaker 2: 02:53 Sure. So they are seeing a great increase in the number of people detained during smuggling attempts sea. And given this increase, they decided to partner with some of their agencies like the coast guard to try to monitor the ocean for any smuggling attempts. And, uh, that, that was happening over the weekend while, while this incident unfolded. And, um, it's important to know. I think that, you know, officials were asked whether this boat was on their radar and they said that it wasn't, they noted that again, it wasn't, um, the type of boat that smugglers usually use. And they think that maybe this boat was trying to blend in with other commercial traffic.

Speaker 1: 03:34 So then it's safe to assume that there was no interaction with CPB or any other law enforcement agency, uh, before this boat crash,

Speaker 2: 03:42 They had not made contact with this bow or they, they essentially hadn't seen it out at sea before it wasn't on their radar until lifeguards in San Diego got a report of a boat that was drifting toward the shore.

Speaker 1: 03:54 Do you have any idea of what's driving more people to try to cross by sea rather than land?

Speaker 2: 04:01 You know, during the Trump administration, we saw a lot of talk of the border on land and, you know, talk of a border wall. And essentially as the Trump administration tightened border infrastructure on land, we did see according to data, human and drug smugglers increasingly turned to the Pacific ocean. And, uh, that's something that one of the border patrol officials pointed to yesterday during a press conference on this crash. And he essentially said that smugglers look for any vulnerability that they may think there is. So in this case, they're turning to the Pacific ocean to smuggle people across.

Speaker 1: 04:37 So tell me about the rescue effort.

Speaker 2: 04:39 It appears to me now that there were quite a number of people who jumped in to help in terms of like pulling people who had kind of made it close to the shoreline. But once authorities got a sense of what they were dealing with in terms of like a number of people, they sent out, uh, lifeguards on personal watercraft, like jet-skis, and they also sent out some rescue boats and essentially some of the people on the boat were able to make it to the shoreline. Others were trapped in the rip current. So it was a lot of coordination that had to go into this. And even once they had pretty much rescued everyone, they could see, they still kept a coast guard, helicopter crew overhead to just monitor and make sure there weren't other victims.

Speaker 1: 05:22 Have we seen similar incidents to this one in recent years,

Speaker 2: 05:27 We have, I mean, not none, this tragic, uh, in recent memory, but you know, even last week there was an incident where there were 25 people packed on up small boat. Pinga in that case, it's not uncommon for that to happen. Usually the boat makes it to shore and sometimes people are detained, but there have been other similar incidents in recent years.

Speaker 1: 05:51 I've been speaking with David Hernandez who covers crime, law enforcement and public safety for the San Diego union Tribune. David, thank you so much for joining us. Thanks for having me.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.