San Diego Fire-Rescue Department spokesperson Monica Munoz told CNN they received reports of a smuggling vessel which overturned on May 3, 2021. The boat capsized near the Cabrillo National Monument in Point Loma at approximately 10:27 a.m. James Gartland, lifeguard chief for San Diego, told reporters it appeared the boat hit the reef, broke up and 30 people “came out of the vessel.”
“This was a mass rescue operation that turned into a mass casualty incident,” Gartland said.
First responders fled to the rescue but by the time they arrived, the boat — a 40-foot cabin cruiser — was broken apart, according to Lifeguard Lt. Rick Romero with San Diego Fire-Rescue. Romero also reported that there were 30 people on the boat. Most made it to shore on their own, but six people were rescued from the water after a rip current pulled them out to sea.
Conditions were rough. According to Romero – 5-6 feet of surf, windy, and cold. “The water is around 60 degrees so you get hypothermic pretty quickly,” he mentioned. “Our goal was just to rescue everyone we could.” He also added that a Navy staff member who was out with his family also tried to save those injured in the water.
Unfortunately, the fire department said more than 20 people were transported to local hospitals. It also clarified that the department would not get any updates on the status of patients due to privacy laws.
Jeff Stephenson, supervisor and border patrol agent in the San Diego sector of US Customs and Border Patrol, stated that from their perspective, the smuggling vessel was most likely used to smuggle migrants into the United States illegally.
“We’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of maritime smuggling attempts recently,” said Chief Patrol Agent Aaron Heitke with CBP’s San Diego sector. “All of these illegal crossings at sea are inherently dangerous, and we have seen too many turn from risky to tragic as smugglers sacrifice the safety of those on board for the sake of profits.”
This incident demonstrates the dangers faced by boaters in California. BoatLaw, LLP has represented those injured in maritime accidents for over forty years. If you have been injured at sea or offshore, call BoatLaw, LLP at 1(800) 262-8529 today for a consultation free of charge.