At least eight people are dead after two boats believed to be smuggling migrants off the coast of San Diego capsized. Image courtesy of San Diego Fire and Rescue/Facebook
March 12 (UPI) -- At least eight people are dead after two boats began to capsize off the coast of San Diego, believed to be smuggling migrants.
A Spanish-speaking female passenger from one of the boats, who was able to make it to the shore, called 911 after reaching land at Black's Beach, The San Diego Tribune reported.
James Gartland, lifeguard chief for San Diego Fire and Rescue, said during a press briefing on Sunday the call came in around 11 p.m.
It was not immediately clear whether the boats had collided in the water or what had caused the boats to capsize, but the incident occurred Saturday night amid thick fog and high tide creating a challenge for rescuers.
Teams from the San Diego Police Department and San Diego Fire and Rescue, as well as the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol and the U.S. Coast Guard, responded to the site in the Torrey Pines community of San Diego.
One of the boats was carrying eight people while the second may have carried up to 15 people, Gartland said.
"The lifeguards after about an hour of, we were in recovery mode for about five hours after that," he said. "The access to the area was very difficult due to the tide. This is one of the worst maritime smuggling tragedies that I have seen."
Gartland said both vessels were capsized when first responders arrived on scene, however, a spokesperson for the U.S. Coast Guard said one of the boats was able to reach the shore.
It was not immediately clear why there was an apparent discrepancy between the two accounts.
No survivors were recovered from the sea, authorities said. All the deceased were adults.
Gartland described both boats as pangas, which are open-holed fishing vessels.
"Sadly this tragedy continues and it's been happening for quite some time," the spokesperson said during the press briefing on Sunday.
"Since 2017 we've had a 771% increase in human trafficking in the Southern California coast region. Since 2021 we've had 23 lives lost at sea."
Rescuers resumed a recovery mission on Sunday.