March 12 (Reuters) – At least eight people have died after two fishing boats capsized off the coast of San Diego, California, in an apparent migrant smuggling operation, emergency officials said on Sunday.
San Diego emergency crews began a search and recovery operation late Saturday night, after receiving a 911 call from a Spanish-speaker about fishing boats in distress off the coast of San Diego’s Black’s Beach.
Crews arrived to find two fishing boats capsized in a 400-foot (366 m) area, and eight bodies were recovered from the water and the beach, San Diego Fire-Rescue Lifeguard Division Chief James Gartland said.
“This is one of the worst smuggling tragedies that I can think of in California, certainly here in the city of San Diego,” Gartland said.
Officials did not know the nationalities of the victims but told reporters that they were all adults.
Hazardous weather conditions likely contributed to the danger of the maritime smuggling operation, and also hindered rescue efforts overnight, officials said. The U.S. Coast Guard and the San Diego Fire-Rescue Lifeguard division were still involved in the recovery operation late Sunday morning.
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Eric Lavergne, special operations supervisor with the U.S. Border Patrol in San Diego, said this was one of a few hundred migrant smuggling events recorded in his jurisdiction this fiscal year, which is on track with the rate in recent years.
These have included incidents of migrants swimming, traveling by surfboard or taking panga fishing boats to cross into the U.S., he said.
Reporting by Rami Ayyub and Gabriella Borter; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Bill Berkrot
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