At Least 8 Dead After Suspected Smuggling Boats Capsize Near San Diego

At least eight suspected immigrants died late Saturday night after two panga boats reportedly capsized near Black’s Beach in San Diego, California, local authorities said.

San Diego Fire Department lifeguards told NBC that a woman called 911 just before midnight on Saturday, saying a panga boat with eight to 10 people on board had capsized. The small fishing boats are often used for smuggling operations. 

San Diego Police Officer Sarah Foster told The Los Angeles Times the woman who called traveled on the other boat, but when emergency crews arrived, they discovered that both vessels had capsized and found no survivors. Officials estimated 23 people were on the two boats and said the remaining passengers could have escaped.

Due to the high tide and thick fog, authorities struggled to access the shore area. After scaling north on the coast, lifeguards found the deceased bodies and overturned boats. Crews were still searching for an estimated seven additional victims, authorities said on Sunday.

San Diego Fire-Rescue’s Deputy Chief of Operations Daniel Eddy told OnScene TV that authorities could not get any helicopters up.

“We had boats in the water, but at first light, once all the conditions clear, we will have Coast Guard out here and San Diego Fire-Rescue and lifeguards doing a joint search through the water for any possible victims that are left,” Eddy said.

“We tried to launch helicopters both from San Diego Fire and Coast Guard but due to the conditions, they couldn’t get up,” Eddy said. “Coast Guard finally got up with their copter but due to the conditions of the fog in the area it was hard for their [forward-looking thermal imaging cameras] to get through to see anything in the water.”

U.S. Border Patrol authorities told the Times they had no further information about the incident or if law enforcement has detained anyone.

“This is one of the worst maritime tragedies that I can think of in California, and certainly here in San Diego.” San Diego Lifeguard Chief James Gartland said during a press conference on Sunday.

Coast Guard Capt. James Spitler told reporters at a morning news conference since 2017, the Southern California coastal region has seen a 771% increase in human trafficking.

“Since 2021, we’ve had 23 lives lost at sea,” Spitler said.

Immigrant encounters at the U.S. southern border have surged to an all-time high under President Joe Biden. 

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) recorded 251,487 encounters with illegal aliens in December, the highest number ever recorded in U.S. history. Combined with the first two months of the fiscal year 2023 — October and November — those numbers put the U.S. on track to have more than 2.87 million illegal alien encounters on the U.S. southern border.

As of last December, the Biden administration has experienced ten straight months of 200,000+ illegal alien encounters on the southern border.

The administration fears that the numbers could worsen after Title 42, a Trump-era health order allowing U.S. Border Patrol agents to turn away migrants at the border, expires on May 11.

The Biden administration is reportedly considering resurrecting stiffer regulations on families crossing illegally into the U.S. after scrapping similar policies over a year ago. A decision to revive the policy would be a reversal for Biden, who campaigned to end long detainments or not detaining children.

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