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4 Dead, Dozens Injured After Suspected Smuggling Boat Capsizes Near San Diego

Updated May 3, 2021 at 1:38 AM ET

Four people are dead and dozens injured after a suspected human smuggling boat capsized and split into pieces off the coast of San Diego Sunday.

"Twenty-nine people have reportedly been accounted for, consisting of twenty-four people alive, four people declared deceased by local emergency medical services personnel and one person who was last reported to be in critical condition," according to the U.S. Coast Guard statement that was issued shortly before 11:30 p.m. ET Sunday.

The Coast Guard says it will continue to search the waters off the coast of San Diego throughout the night.

In an earlier Sunday news conference, authorities said the boat broke apart after colliding with a reef.

"It's a tragic event," said the city's lifeguard chief, James Gartland, adding that it's probably one of the worst tragedies he's seen in his 26-year career.

The San Diego Fire-Rescue Department, local lifeguards, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Border Patrol and other agencies responded to reports of an overturned vessel near the peninsula of Point Loma Sunday morning, close to the shoreline surrounding the Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego.

San Diego Lifeguard Lt. Rick Romero said the "wide variety" of injuries range from hypothermia to wounds sustained in the boat crash.

Authorities said they assume the journey was "illegal migration."

"Every indication from our perspective is that this was a smuggling vessel," said Jeff Stephenson, supervisory Border Patrol agent, who said the boat was "severely overcrowded."

The person believed to be operating the boat, a suspected smuggler, is in custody now, officials said.

After facing waves 5-6 feet high and rocking into the reef, Romero said the 40-foot cabin cruiser "slowly disintegrated into a bunch of pieces. It's just debris now."

Border Patrol agent Stephenson said there's been a steady increase in maritime apprehensions this year. Between October 2019 and September 2020, the number of those apprehensions jumped by 92% — about 1,200 more than the previous fiscal year.

He believes the boat was attempting to blend in with commercial vessels.

The ages and nationalities of those aboard the boat are currently unknown, authorities said.

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