Migrant-smuggling operation near San Diego turns deadly

by mcardinal

Willie R. Tubbs, FISM News

Sunday, eight people died when a pair of small watercraft that smugglers were using as a means of sneaking migrants into the United States capsized in the waters near San Diego. 

Officials in Southern California reported that a combination of heavy fog and moderate surf led both small vessels to overturn, although one of the two boats suffered a far worse fate. 

“This is one of the worst smuggling tragedies that I can think of in California, certainly here in the city of San Diego,” San Diego Fire-Rescue Lifeguard Division Chief James Gartland told reporters. 

U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Richard Brahm said emergency workers received a call from a passenger on the second of the two boats. That passenger, a female, reported that the first boat had capsized and flung its occupants overboard. 

“The woman who called stated that the boat that overturned had 15 people on it, but that was just an estimate,” Brahm said.

Rescue workers recovered eight bodies, but it remains unclear if there were indeed 15 total passengers or, if so, what fate befell the other passengers. 

“That area is very hazardous, even in the daytime,” Gartland said. “It has a series of sandbars and in-shore rip currents, so you can think that you can land in some sand or get to waist-high, knee-high water and think that you’re able to be safe to exit the water but there’s long, in-shore holes. If you step into those holes, those rip currents will pull you along the shore and back out to sea.”

The second boat later overturned as well but appears to have been close enough to the shore to allow its occupants to escape. 

Sadly, even this potentially historic tragedy is not truly novel. Wrecks and death are a reality when human smugglers attempt to sneak people into the United States using boats ill-fitted to the task of traveling sometimes hundreds of miles along the coast looking for a safe place to land. 

In May 2021, a boat packed with human cargo capsized, killing three and injuring dozens more. 

The problem is unlikely to slow down any time soon. According to officials in Southern California, there have been hundreds of smuggling attempts of this nature in recent years, particularly as migrants who would be expelled under Title 42 health standards seek to avoid detection.