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Eight Killed in Maritime Smuggling Accident off San Diego

Black's Beach, La Jolla
Black's Beach (file image courtesy Levi Clancy / CC BY SA 4.0)

Published Mar 13, 2023 11:21 PM by The Maritime Executive

Over the weekend, two migrant smuggling vessels capsized off San Diego's coast, killing multiple occupants in one of the region's worst maritime migration accidents in years. 

Late Saturday, San Diego's 911 center received a call for assistance from a woman aboard a migrant smuggling boat. She described a distress situation off Black's Beach, a popular surfing destination just north of La Jolla, involving two pangas. Her own boat was safe at the time of the call, but the other boat had capsized with 15 people aboard. 

At about 2330 hours, San Diego Fire-Rescue's responders found two boats capsized within about 150 yards of each other, and they recovered eight bodies from the beach. No survivors were found nearby, and heavy fog hampered SAR efforts overnight. The U.S. Coast Guard launched a search with a small boat, a cutter and a SAR helicopter on Sunday morning, but suspended its participation that afternoon. 

Seven of the eight victims have been identified as Mexican citizens, according to the local Mexican consulate office in San Diego. The eighth person's citizenship status is unknown. 

DHS' Homeland Security Investigations is conducting an investigation into the casualty, according to the U.S. Border Patrol. 

After the accident, the Border Patrol and the Mexican consulate warned would-be migrants against attempting to cross the border using the services of human smuggling gangs. "Human smugglers will take advantage of [migrants'] need in order to obtain illicit money, distorting reality, creating false expectations, and exposing them to high-risk conditions where they may lose their lives,” warned Mexico’s consul general in San Diego, Carlos González Gutiérrez. 

Maritime smuggling across the U.S.-Mexico border has increased rapidly in recent years. Including drug trafficking, migration and other law enforcement priorities, the Coast Guard and the Border Patrol recorded nearly 670 "events" on the water off San Diego last year - nearly two incidents per day. 

Top image: Black's Beach (file image courtesy Levi Clancy / CC BY SA 4.0)