At least eight people died on Saturday night after two boats capsized off of Black's Beach in San Diego.
The passengers were on two suspected smuggling boats, officials said, with eight people on one and up to 15 people on the other. A woman speaking Spanish called 911 to report the incident, saying the boat she was on managed to make it to shore but the other had capsized. Once first responders arrived at the scene, they found that both boats had overturned, and there were no survivors, Lifeguard Chief James Gartland with the San Diego Fire Department said Sunday.
"This is one of the worst maritime smuggling tragedies that I can think of in California, and certainly here in the city of San Diego," Gartland added.
Officials from San Diego Fire-Rescue Department said search and rescue efforts were hindered by thick fog and high tide, but once crews were able to make it to dry sand, they "began to find lifeless bodies and two overturned pangas spread over an area of about 400 yards. Several life jackets and fuel barrels were also found." As of Sunday morning, eight bodies have been found, all adults.
Since 2017, there has been a 771 percent increase in human trafficking in Southern California's coast region, Coast Guard Capt. James Spitler said Sunday, with 23 people dying at sea in the last two years. He said the panga boats carrying people are often overloaded and poorly maintained, a dangerous combination even in good weather conditions.
"Every time they get into a panga to come northbound, their lives are at risk," Spitler said, adding, "this is not necessarily people trying to find a better life. This is part of a transnational criminal organization effort to smuggle people into the United States." Many of these passengers are being trafficked, he continued, including for sex work.