One person has died and eight have been injured in an apparent migrant smuggling attempt off San Diego’s La Jolla coast, authorities said on Thursday.
Lifeguards rescued 10 people in what the San Diego fire-rescue department called “rough water conditions”, including eight who were hospitalized. Some of the migrants wore life vests.
One person who was found underwater was pronounced dead on the beach. The fire department in a statement said it did not know how many people were aboard the boat.
Lifeguards were alerted that people were in the water around 5.30am on Thursday, minutes before sunrise. The boat was in waters just offshore from Wipeout Beach, off the coast from multimillion-dollar homes, shops and in an area that is popular with surfers, swimmers, walkers and runners.
The fire department said survivors were turned over to US Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
It is not the first such deadly incident to take place in recent weeks. Earlier this month, a recreational cabin cruiser overloaded with 32 people capsized off the San Diego coast, killing three people. The crash had the hallmarks of a smuggling attempt from Mexico gone awry.
Smuggling off the California coast has ebbed and flowed over the years but has long been a risky alternative for migrants to avoid heavily guarded land borders.
Small boats with single- or twin-engines known as “pangas” enter from Mexico in the dead of night, sometimes heading hundreds of miles north. Recreational boats, like the one that capsized earlier this month, try to mix in unnoticed with fishing and pleasure vessels during the day.
Smuggling has become a booming business as migrants pay for transportation across the US border, and the recent deaths have highlighted the desperate and often perilous situations that migrants find themselves in. In March, a tractor-trailer slammed into an SUV carrying 25 passengers in southern California, killing 13 Mexican and Guatemalan citizens.
CBP recently announced it would ramp up operations to intercept smuggling operations off the coast of San Diego after seeing “a dramatic increase” in the number of attempts to bring undocumented migrants to the US by sea.