ENCINITAS — The investigation into an incident where a suspected smuggling vessel and a U.S. Customs and Border Protection patrol boat collided in the waters near Encinitas, leaving one woman dead and sending four others to a hospital is ongoing, according to CBP officials.
The incident, being investigated by the CBP, occurred in the early morning hours on June 18 some nine miles off the coast.
The vessel was initially detected by a CBP multi-role enforcement aircraft as it crossed the international boundary line, and identified as a possible suspect vessel with multiple occupants on board, according to John Priddy, director of the San Diego Air and Marine Branch for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
The vessel, a 30-foot panga, continued to be tracked as it headed in a northbound direction.
A 38-foot CBP SAFE (Secure Around Flotation Equipped) Boat spotted the panga with 20 people aboard. Agents on the SAFE Boat ordered the panga to yield, firing warning shots after it had failed to do so.
During maneuvering the two vessels collided, causing the panga to capsize with all 20 people on board going into the water.
All were pulled from the water, including a woman, who immediately received CPR. The woman, 32, was unresponsive and flown to a hospital by a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter, and later was pronounced dead by medical authorities, said Priddy.
She was the only woman of the 20 Mexican citizens on board. All were suspected of attempting to enter the country illegally. The 19 males ranged in ages between 18 and 54.
Of the 19, four were transported to a local area hospital with non-life threatening injuries. The remaining 15 were transported to U.S. Border Patrol agents at the San Clemente station for processing.
“Any loss of human life is tragic,” said Priddy. “And unfortunately for us in Southern California, this is not the first time we’ve seen a dangerous smuggling attempt at sea result in the loss of human life, including two persons who died near Torrey Pines in 2010 after a smuggling vessel capsized attempting to come ashore in rough surf, and the death of U.S. Coast Guard Senior Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne III near Santa Cruz Island in 2012.”
In January of this year, a CBP helicopter fired warning shots at another smuggling vessel that failed to yield off of the San Diego coastline.
It marked the first time that the CBP deployed warning shots from an air asset on the West Coast, Mitch Pribble, Director of Air Operations for CBP in San Diego, said in a news release.
Three men were arrested in that incident, suspected of smuggling marijuana.
The San Diego Marine Task Force, led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is conducting the criminal investigation into the recent maritime smuggling incident, according to Ralph DeSio, a spokesman with the CBP.