May 2 (UPI) — At least three people died and 27 more were injured after a boat believed to be a “smuggling vessel” overturned off the coast of San Diego on Sunday.
Rick Romero, San Diego Fire Rescue lifeguard lieutenant, said during a press conference that the agency received a call around 10 a.m. from a commercial assistance vessel reporting a vessel offshore near the surf line that appeared to be in trouble.
“Once we arrived on scene the boat had been basically broken apart,” Romero said, describing the vessel as a 40-foot cabin cruiser with multiple people on board.
He added the boat was on a reef and bounced back and forth until it “pretty much disintegrated.”
“There’s no boat there, it’s all debris,” said Romero, adding that two people who had drowned were found facedown dead in the water as rescuers pulled victims to shore.
A total of about 30 people were on the boat at the time of the incident, exceeding its capacity, and U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agent Jeff Stephenson said there was “every indication” the boat was being used to smuggle migrants into the United States illegally.
Romero said that injuries ranged from hypothermia to damage related to the boat breaking apart.
San Diego Fire Rescue Department representative Monica Munoz told CNN most of the people taken to hospitals were “non-emergent” but three people were in “somewhat to very urgent status.”
About 93 personnel from San Diego firefighters and lifeguards, federal firefighters, the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Customs and Border Protection responded to the incident and it wasn’t immediately known if people were still stranded in the water.
“Federal agencies are still searching the water in vessels and aircraft,” the San Diego Fire Department said.
San Deigo Mayor Todd Gloria tweeted asking the people of the city to “keep the boat’s passengers in your prayers.”