Three people died and 27 others were injured after an overcrowded boat capsized off the coast of San Diego on Sunday.
Authorities believe the boat was being used to smuggle people into the US. It wasn't immediately known where the boat had departed from.
The overturned boat was reported by someone on shore around 10:30 a.m. Sunday near Point Loma, which is about 13 miles from the US–Mexico border. San Diego firefighters and lifeguards, along with the US Coast Guard and US Customs and Border Protection officers, responded to pull people from the water and search the area.
According to San Diego lifeguard chief James Gartland, Sunday’s incident was a mass rescue operation that included lifeguards using CPR on three victims, seven water rescues, and one cliff rescue.
“It’s a tragedy. It’s a tragic event here in San Diego, and probably one of the biggest vessel accidents and bigger calls we’ve seen here,” Gartland said in a press conference.
“We train to rescue people in the water that are in trouble off the cliffs and out the water; it doesn’t matter where they come from and what they’re doing," he added.
Videos and photos from the scene showed debris floating in the water after the boat broke up on a reef.
Border Patrol agent Jeff Stephenson told reporters that while investigators are still looking into where the boat departed from, it’s common for smuggling vessels to enter the San Diego area from beaches on Mexico's Baja coast. Stephenson also said that Border Patrol has seen a 92% increase in maritime apprehensions in the last fiscal year.
Crossing the border by sea, in crowded boats without adequate safety equipment, creates an incredibly dangerous situation for immigrants, he said.
“The smugglers don't care about the people they’re exploiting; all they care about is lining their own pocket for profit,” he said. “To them, these people are just commodities; you can see that in the way they treat them.”
The captain of the boat was in custody Sunday, and criminal charges are possible.