March 12 (Reuters) – At least eight people died after two fishing boats capsized in a migrant smuggling operation off the coast of San Diego, California, emergency officials said on Sunday.
San Diego emergency crews launched a search and rescue operation Saturday night after receiving a 911 call from a Spanish-speaking person about fishing boats in danger off Black’s Beach, San Diego.
Crews arrived to find two fishing boats overturned in a 400-foot (366 m) area, and eight bodies recovered from the water and the beach, San Diego Fire Rescue Chief James Cortland said.
“This is one of the worst kidnapping tragedies I can think of in California, certainly here in the city of San Diego,” Cortland said.
Officials did not know the nationalities of the victims, but told reporters they were all adults.
Hazardous weather conditions may have contributed to the danger of the maritime smuggling operation and may have hampered rescue efforts overnight, officials said. The US Coast Guard and the San Diego Fire Rescue Lifeguard Unit were still involved in the rescue operation Sunday morning.
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Eric Lavergne, special operations supervisor for the U.S. Border Patrol in San Diego, said it was one of a few hundred migrant smuggling cases reported in his jurisdiction this fiscal year, a rate that has been on the rise in recent years.
These include incidents where migrants swim, surfboard or cross the U.S. on banca fishing boats, he said.
Reporting by Rami Ayyub and Gabriella Porter; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Bill Bergrod
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