By Gina Yarbrough
San Diego, CA–A suspected human smuggling vessel operation Sunday morning left three people dead and 29 injured off the coast of Point Loma, according to the San Diego Fire Department.
Federal authorities detained the boat’s operator and suspected smuggler at the scene of the accident. His identity and nationality was not released by authorities.
Passengers on the boat suffered serious injuries and were transported to local area hospitals. Their condition is unknown.
At a news conference Sunday, James Gartland, Chief of San Diego Fire-Rescue Lifeguard Division, spoke about the water rescue operation.
“The vessel hit the reef and it broke up. It’s a tragic event here in San Diego. In my 26 years it’s the worst tragedy,” Gartland said.
Smugglers have used boats to bring people into the U.S. from Mexico. In the last couple of years, the number of maritime smuggling has increased, according to federal authorities.
“The smugglers don’t care about the people they are exploiting. All they care about is profit,” Jeff Stephenson, of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection said Sunday.
TowBoat U.S. contacted Coast Guard Sector San Diego command center watchstanders around 10 a.m., reporting a 40-foot trawler-style boat capsized on the rocks.
San Diego Fire and Rescue crews, the U.S. Coast Guard and partner agencies responded to the overturned vessel near the Point Loma Tide Pools in the Cabrillo National Monument.
Coast Guard Sector San Diego dispatched a 45-foot Response Boat crew, a Sector San Diego MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew and a Coast Guard Air Station Sacramento C-27 Spartan aircrew. The Coast Guard Cutters Blackfin, Haddock and Robert Ward were also diverted to the scene.
San Diego Harbor Police, San Diego Fire-Rescue and SDFD Lifeguards, San Diego Fire Department, Border Patrol, Air and Marine Operations, Office of Field Operations, Homeland Security Investigations, and National Park Service assisted in the rescue.
The Blackfin’s crew is scheduled to continue searching through the night.
The incident is under investigation.
Photos taken at the scene of the boat incident today. 40’ cabin cruiser broke up along the rocks inside the surf line. The @SDLifeguards cliff rescue veh was used to extricate one patient up to street level. pic.twitter.com/lQ54UdBWBG— SDFD (@SDFD) May 2, 2021