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8 dead after 2 suspected smuggling boats overturn near San Diego

SAN DIEGO (KSWB) – Eight people are dead after two suspected migrant smuggling boats overturned off the coast of San Diego overnight, authorities said.

Lifeguards responded to an area near Black’s Beach after a Spanish-speaking woman on one of the panga-style boats called 911 around 11:30 p.m. Saturday, according to San Diego Fire-Rescue Department spokeswoman Mónica Muñoz.

The woman reported two vessels, one carrying eight people and another carrying approximately 15, had overturned, San Diego Lifeguard Chief James Garland said during a Sunday morning news conference.

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When lifeguards and Customs and Border Protection officers arrived, they found a total of eight bodies and both capsized boats, SDFD said. Lifeguards also found several lifejackets and fuel barrels but thick fog hampered the search for additional victims. Others may also have left the beach before authorities arrived, Garland said.

Authorities were still searching the area Sunday morning and planned to continue into the afternoon.

It was not immediately clear what caused the capsizing or what the nationalities of the passengers were, Garland said.

“This is one of the worst maritime smuggling tragedies that I can think of in California, certainly here in the city of San Diego,” Garland said.

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“This is not necessarily people trying to find a better life,” Capt. James Spitler, sector commander for Coast Guard San Diego, said during the news conference. “This is part of a transnational criminal organization effort to smuggle people into the United States. These people are often labor-trafficked and sex-trafficked when they arrive. Again, it was a tragedy — we offer our condolences.”

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In May 2021, a packed boat used in a human smuggling operation capsized and broke apart in powerful surf along the rocky San Diego coast, killing three people and injuring more than two dozen others.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

As reported by WANE 15