Four dead after suspected migrant-smuggling boat breaks apart off San Diego

Part of the wreckage of a boat that capsized and washed ashore near Point Loma, San Diego, on May 2, 2021.
Part of the wreckage of a boat that capsized and washed ashore near Point Loma, San Diego, on May 2, 2021.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SAN DIEGO (REUTERS) - Four people were killed and more than two dozen injured on Sunday (May 2) when a boat suspected of attempting to smuggle migrants into California broke apart off Cabrillo National Monument at San Diego's rugged Point Loma, the United States Coast Guard said.

The initial call arrived just before 10am and prompted a large emergency response, including the US Coast Guard and state and local agencies, as the magnitude of the incident became clear.

San Diego Fire-Rescue lifeguard lieutenant Rick Romero said the 12m cabin cruiser had been pummeled to pieces by the surf by the time rescue boats arrived.

"When we arrived on the scene... There were people in the water, drowning, getting sucked out of the rip current," he said.

Several people were pulled from the water, and some required life-saving efforts on the beach. There had been about 30 people on the boat in severely crowded conditions without adequate safety equipment, authorities said.

"Every indication from our perspective is that this was a smuggling vessel, used to smuggle migrants into the United States illegally," said Border Patrol agent Jeff Stephenson.

The nationality of the people on the boat was not immediately known, Mr Stephenson said, adding that the captain was in custody and speaking with investigators.

The authorities said they had seen a marked increase in maritime smuggling in recent years. The vessel involved in Sunday's incident was larger and held more people than most smuggling boats, according to the Border Patrol.

Cabrillo National Monument is a park with trails, tide pools and exhibits on California history, operated by the US National Park Service.

It is named after Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, who stepped ashore in 1542 as the first European to arrive on what is now the West Coast of the US.