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Major human smuggling incidents in San Diego County in 2021

MAY 20, 2021 — 1 dead in suspected smuggling incident involving panga boat off La Jolla coastOne person died and several others were hospitalized after a panga boat involved in a possible human smuggling attempt was spotted in the waters off La Jolla early Thursday morning.Customs and Border Protection officials said a Border Patrol agent spotted a panga boat off the coast of Point Loma at around 5:10 a.m. traveling north with several passengers.About 10 minutes later, San Diego Lifeguards and Border Patrol agents were called to the waters near the La Jolla Children’s Pool due to reports of people in the water in need of help.One resident who lives nearby told ABC 10News he woke up to people screaming and saw several people in the water yelling for help.Responding lifeguards were able to rescue at least 10 people from the water and brought them to a lifeguard station to be evaluated. San Diego Fire-Rescue Department officials said eight people were taken to area hospitals.According to SDFD officials, the boat eventually crashed in an area known as Wipeout Beach, near the 700 block of Coast Boulevard. It was at that location in which one person was found in the water, and despite life-saving measures, the individual was pronounced dead at the scene.CBP officials confirmed that there were 15 people taken into custody.

MAY 17, 2021 —Panga boat with 23 people on board spotted off Point LomaThe discovery of a panga boat off the coast of Point Loma early Monday morning prompted a large law enforcement response.Border Patrol officials said an agent spotted the boat with over 20 people on board in the waters off Osprey Street and Sunset Cliffs Boulevard just before 3 a.m.According to Border Patrol officials, a U.S. Coast Guard boat made contact with the vessel and told it to stop, but the panga boat continued towards the shore before it became stuck in the surfline.San Diego Lifeguards and San Diego Harbor Police were called to assist due to the possibility the boat would capsize.Responding Coast Guard personnel were able to pull the panga boat from the surfline and towed it to San Diego Lifeguard headquarters.The boat occupants -- 20 men and three women -- were questioned by Border Patrol agents, and it was determined the occupants were “all illegally present in the U.S.,” according to Border Patrol officials.Officials said the boat was seized and the 23 people were being processed by Customs and Border Protection.The report comes two weeks after a suspected smuggling boat carrying 30 people capsized off Point Loma, killing three people and leading to the arrest of the boat’s captain.

MAY 2, 2021 —Coast Guard: 3 dead after boat overturns off Point Loma coastThree people died after a boat overturned in the waters off Point Loma Sunday morning, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.The Coast Guard reported rescue efforts were launched near the Point Loma Tide Pools in the Cabrillo National Monument at around 10:30 a.m. following reports that a 40-foot, trawler-style boat capsized. A total of 92 personnel were assigned to the scene, including eight engines and 10 medics, ABC 10News learned.Coast Guard officials on Monday confirmed 32 people were on the vessel when it overturned. Officials said 29 people survived, with five survivors taken to area hospitals for treatment; one of those people remains in critical condition.Three people were declared dead by the San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office, the Coast Guard said.Coast Guard officials initially stated Sunday that four people had died in the incident, but that number was updated in a news release issued Monday. Search efforts by the Coast Guard were suspended on Monday as well.According to the Mexican Consulate and US Customs and Border Protection, all but two of the people on board were Mexican nationals. One person was from Guatemala and a second, the captain of the boat, was a U.S. citizen.The captain was turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).In a press conference Sunday, a border patrol spokesperson said the conditions smugglers put people in on boats like this are dangerous."They don’t care about the people they’re exploiting, all they care about is profit. To them these people are commodities."When asked if the captain would face any charges, the U.S. Attorney's Office released the following statement: “We are working closely with our law enforcement partners as they conduct the investigation and we are carefully reviewing the matter. We cannot comment further on an ongoing investigation.”The Border Patrol has taken 28 people into custody for processing. The group includes 21 men and 6 women, ages 18-39. One person was identified as an unaccompanied 15-year-old boy.Eyewitness video shot by a bystander who watched from shore showed several people jumping from the boat into rough waters and others struggling to swim to land. The 40-foot boat quickly broke up in the 5- to 6-feet of surf, creating a large swath of debris, the video showed. Some of the passengers were seen standing in waist-deep water searching through debris for some of the other passengers.Two Navy sailors happened to be on the beach at the time of the incident, and they immediately dove into the water to start rescuing people.Bruce Jamieson is a City of San Diego lifeguard and was one of the initial first responders on scene. He said the call initially came in as one person stuck on a boat off of Point Loma, so he and two other lifeguards responded. When they arrived on scene, they quickly realized it was much worse."It was kind of disbelief and shock because the initial report wasn’t anything of the actual scene," said Jamieson.Jamieson added that their intense training helped in the high-stress scenario. They instantly got to work, giving medical aid to the survivors."We train so much that we want to get on scene and it’s just automatic. It’s not something we’re thinking about, it’s just second nature to us," he said.At least one person was in CPR status at the time of the rescue, San Diego Fire-Rescue officials said.The tide pools at Cabrillo National Monument were closed as a result of the incident.Sunday's incident comes four days since federal authorities detained 21 Mexican nationals after a panga boat was stopped off about eleven miles west of the Point Loma shoreline."We've seen a dramatic increase in the number of maritime smuggling attempts recently," said Aaron Heitke, Chief Patrol Agent of the Border Patrol’s San Diego Sector. "All of these illegal crossings at sea are inherently dangerous, and we have seen too many turn from risky to tragic as smugglers sacrifice the safety of those on board for the sake of profits."So far this fiscal year, the Border Patrol has documented 157 maritime smuggling events in the San Diego area, according to CBP officials.

APRIL 29, 2021 —Panga boat intercepted off coast of Point Loma, 21 detainedFederal authorities detained 21 Mexican nationals after a panga boat was stopped off the coast of San Diego early Thursday morning.At around 1:00 a.m. on April 29, U.S. Customs and Border Protection spotted a panga boat about eleven miles west of the Point Loma shoreline. Inside the small vessel were 15 males and six females.The boat occupants were determined to be undocumented migrants and were taken into Border Patrol custody.Aaron Heitke, Chief Patrol Agent of the Border Patrol’s San Diego Sector, said, “As a constant reminder to the public, if you see something out of the ordinary near the coast, don’t hesitate to call authorities. These vessels are dangerously overloaded and unsafe in the ever-changing ocean conditions. Smugglers exploit migrants and put lives in significant danger for their own profit.”Two of the 21 people aboard the vessel are suspected of leading the attempt to sneak into the U.S. by boat and will face federal smuggling charges, agency spokeswoman Jackie Wasiluk said.So far this fiscal year, the Border Patrol has documented 157 maritime smuggling events in the San Diego area, according to CBP officials.Federal authorities plan to ramp up their anti-maritime-smuggling enforcement operations this weekend, officials announced Friday morning."We've seen a dramatic increase in the number of maritime smuggling attempts recently," Heitke said. "All of these illegal crossings at sea are inherently dangerous, and we have seen too many turn from risky to tragic as smugglers sacrifice the safety of those on board for the sake of profits."Through Monday, federal law enforcement authorities will dedicate extra resources to coastal patrols covering the land, air and sea, according to CBP public affairs.

JANUARY 12, 2021 —Panga boat intercepted off coast of Point Loma, 20 detainedFederal authorities detained 20 Mexican nationals after a panga boat was stopped off the coast of San Diego.At around 11:20 p.m. on Jan. 9, authorities spotted a panga boat about a quarter-mile west of the Point Loma shoreline. Inside the vessel were 17 males and three females.The boat occupants were determined to be undocumented migrants and were taken into Border Patrol custody.Aaron Heitke, Chief Patrol Agent of the Border Patrol’s San Diego Sector, said, “As a constant reminder to the public, if you see something out of the ordinary near the coast, don’t hesitate to call authorities. These vessels are dangerously overloaded and unsafe in the ever-changing ocean conditions. Smugglers exploit migrants and put lives in significant danger for their own profit.”

FEBRUARY 25, 2021 — Man arrested in human smuggling attempt in East County, 10 people found inside vehicleOne man was arrested Tuesday night during a foiled human smuggling attempt in East County, according to the U.S. Border Patrol.On Tuesday, Feb. 23, at about 9:30 p.m., Border Patrol Agents said a 24-year-old male U.S. citizen in a Chevy Tahoe approached the Highway 94 checkpoint in Jamul. In the front passenger seat was a 17-year-old male.Agents said right before they approached the driver; he sped away from the checkpoint. Agents pursued the Chevy Tahoe until the driver came to an abrupt stop on the westbound lanes on Highway 94 near Lyons Valley Road. Agents said the driver sped off again at a high rate of speed, colliding with a USBP vehicle and two other civilian cars.When Agents went over to detain the driver, they found 10 Mexican nationals inside the SUV illegally present in the U.S.The driver, juvenile passenger, one undocumented migrant, and four Border Patrol agents were injured during the pursuit and taken to area hospitals where they were treated for minor injuries. They were later released from the hospital.Border Patrol seized the Chevy Tahoe, and the driver will remain in federal custody pending multiple criminal charges.

MARCH 26, 2021 — Abandoned panga boat found ashore near Point LomaA panga boat was found Friday morning near Point Loma, but no occupants were found in the area, a Border Patrol agent said.Life jackets, jugs of water and cans of fuel were found on the beach near the panga, said Jeff Stephenson, a Border Patrol supervisor in San Diego. Pangas often are associated with human smuggling.The boat was discovered around 10:10 a.m. by a Coast Guard air unit south of Pt. Loma Nazarene University.Despite an extensive search, Border Patrol agents could not find anyone connected with the boat, Stephenson said.CBP Office of Air and Marine Operations seized the vessel.

FEBRUARY 9, 2021 — Feds nab human smuggling boat off the coast of Torrey Pines, 11 people detainedFederal agents foiled a human smuggling attempt early Tuesday by intercepting a small vessel loaded with nearly a dozen unauthorized immigrants in the ocean northwest of Torrey Pines State Reserve, authorities reported.Personnel with U.S. Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine Operations detected the presence of the northbound 20-foot inflatable boat in the sea near the U.S.-Mexico border about 11:30 p.m. Monday, according to CBP public affairs.The agency sent out an interceptor vessel, which caught up with the suspected smuggling boat about 90 minutes later.Agents took the 11 occupants of the inflatable vessel -- a Brazilian man and 10 Mexican nationals, including a child -- into custody. Ten of them were turned over to the U.S. Border Patrol for deportation, and one of the men was arrested on suspicion of leading the smuggling attempt, officials said.The detainees' names were not released.