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Coast Guard ends search for survivors of capsized smuggling boat

The U.S. Coast Guard said the smuggling boat capsized Sunday morning on rocks off the coast of Point, Loma, San Diego. Photo courtesy of San Diego Fire and Rescue/Twitter 
The U.S. Coast Guard said the smuggling boat capsized Sunday morning on rocks off the coast of Point, Loma, San Diego. Photo courtesy of San Diego Fire and Rescue/Twitter 

May 3 (UPI) -- The U.S. Coast Guard on Monday said it suspended its search for survivors of a capsized smuggling boat off the coast of San Diego that resulted in the deaths of three people, authorities said.

Thirty-two people have been accounted for, including five people who were taken to the hospital, one of whom was in critical condition, and the three deaths, which were declared by the San Diego County medical examiner, the Coast Guard said in a statement.

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Officials had originally reported four people had died after the 40-foot smuggling boat overturned Sunday.

The Coast Guard said it decided to call off the search Monday morning following "careful consideration" of information from rescue crews, partner agencies and the size of the rescue effort, said Capt. Timothy Barelli, the sector San Diego commander.

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"Yesterday, we were once again reminded how dangerous these ocean smuggling attempts can be and we will continue to work with our local, state and federal partners to prevent, detect and respond to cases like this to keep the waters of San Diego safe and secure," Barelli said.

According to a release from U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials, all but two people onboard the vessel were Mexican nationals without legal status to enter the United States. Of the two non-Mexicans, one was from Guatemala, also without legal U.S. status, and the other was a U.S. citizen who was turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

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Among the undocumented survivors were 21 men and six women between the ages of 18 and 39, CBP said, adding one survivor was identified as an unaccompanied 15-year-old boy.

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Officials were notified that the boat had overturned on rocks at about 10 a.m. Sunday.

The vessel capsized amid an increase in smuggling attempts into the country and as San Diego law enforcement increased efforts to thwart such attempts over the weekend.

CBP said it intercepted a boat about 11 miles off Point Loma with 21 people on board Thursday. On Sunday, a pleasure craft dropped of seven men, one woman and an unaccompanied 13-year-old boy on the shores of Newport Dunes Boat Ramp in Newport Beach, Calif., officials said.

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"The individuals on board these small vessels, trying to enter the U.S. illegally, frequently are not told of the dangers they will face on their journey and are not prepared," said N. Michael Montgomery, director of CBP's air and marine operations at San Diego Air and Marine Branch. "They will end up far out to sea in a small boat without adequate food, water, safety gear or protection against the elements."

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