An attempted human smuggling incident ended with the death of one migrant, another hospitalized in grave condition, and an alleged smuggler in jail. The incident happened in rough seas off the southern California coast.
Early Monday morning, operators with the Joint Harbor Operations Center (JHOC) observed a suspicious vessel headed north of the coast of Imperial Beach, California. The JHOC requested assistance from the U.S. Coast Guard, CBP’s Air and Marine Operations (AMO), and the U.S. Border Patrol to respond to the suspected human smuggling incident, according to information obtained from San Diego Sector Border Patrol officials.
As the agencies responded, JHOC officials sent out word that the boat capsized after appearing dead in the water. The boat appeared to be an open-platform Bayliner-style that turned over in the rough surf. Officials observed other boats attempting to help those thrown in the water.
An AMO interdiction vessel arrived on the scene and remained just outside the surf line providing lighting to the area.
“Smugglers often overcrowd small, open vessels, and in the cases where personal flotation devices are provided, they are often unsafe and insufficient,” San Diego Sector Chief Patrol Agent Aaron M. Heitke said in a written statement. “Sea conditions, visibility, and weather are not important considerations to smugglers as they place an emphasis on profit over their victims’ safety.”
Border Patrol agents working the shoreline found the capsized boat and seven people who washed up onshore. Two of the people needed immediate life-saving support. The agents began assisting all seven migrants and began CPR on the two men in critical condition. An ambulance arrived on the scene and transported the two to a nearby hospital. Doctors pronounced one of the migrants dead on arrival, officials reported. The decedent is identified as a 62-year-old Mexican national.
The second man, a 44-year-old Mexican national, is listed in grave condition and doctors are continuing treatment.
“We are saddened by the loss of life,” Chief Heitke stated. “The smuggling of humans puts its victims in dangerous and harsh conditions and maritime smuggling is especially dangerous, as we saw in this incident.”
AMO San Diego Branch Director Timothy Sutherland added, “The perils associated with maritime smuggling cannot possibly be overstated. Today, the careless actions of those responsible for directing covert smuggling efforts resulted in the tragic loss of life.”
“Any loss of life is both tragic and unacceptable, particularly because it was avoidable,” Director Sutherland continued. “This is yet another sobering moment that reminds us of the price so many victims have paid.”
Border Patrol agents identified the surviving five migrants as Mexican men, aged 22 to 51. Officials said all were illegally present in the U.S. Agents transported the five to the Border Patrol station for processing.
Officials said the boat’s captain, a 51-year-old man, remains in federal custody pending charges of human smuggling resulting in death. The report does not list the captain’s citizenship or nationality. Border Patrol agents seized the boat.