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  4. Maritime Smuggling Results in Death

Maritime Smuggling Results in Death

Release Date

IMPERAL BEACH, Calif.—A San Diego area smuggling event led to the death of one person and put another individual in grave condition on Monday due to unusually high surf and cold winter weather.


“We are saddened by the loss of life,” stated U.S. Border Patrol (USBP) San Diego Sector Chief Patrol Agent Aaron M. Heitke.  “The smuggling of humans puts its victims in dangerous and harsh conditions and maritime smuggling is especially dangerous, as we saw in this incident.”


At approximately 2:30 a.m., Joint Harbor Operation Center (JHOC) operators observed a suspicious vessel traveling north off the Imperial Beach coast and requested the USBP, the United States Coast Guard (USCG), and Air and Marine Operations (AMO) to respond to the area.


As USBP, AMO, and USCG responded, JHOC informed them that the boat appeared dead in the water before capsizing.  In addition, JHOC witnessed two people enter the cold and stormy ocean.  

a capsized boat involved in maritime smuggling that led to one death and another in grave condition.
A capsized boat involved in maritime
smuggling that led to one death
and another in grave condition.


AMO arrived on scene in the Coastal Interceptor Vessel to find that the distressed vessel, an open-platform Bayliner style, had overturned in the high surf and that the passengers were being assisted by other responding components along the shoreline.  AMO Marine Interdiction Agents stayed on scene, just outside the surf line, to assist with look out and provide additional lighting.


Chief Patrol Agent Aaron M. Heitke explained, “Smugglers often overcrowd small, open vessels, and in the cases where personal floatation devices are provided, they are often unsafe and insufficient.  Sea conditions, visibility, and weather are not important considerations to smugglers as they place an emphasis on profit over their victims’ safety.”


On shore, USBP agents found the capsized boat and seven people nearby, with two in need of life-saving measures.  Agents aided all seven and began cardiopulmonary resuscitation on the two men who were in a critical state until emergency medical services (EMS) arrived.


The two men were transported by EMS to an area hospital where one, a 62-year-old Mexican national, was pronounced dead upon arrival.  The second individual, a 44-year-old Mexican national, is in grave condition and is being treated for life-threatening injuries.


“The perils associated with maritime smuggling cannot possibly be overstated.  Today, the careless actions of those responsible for directing covert smuggling efforts resulted in the tragic loss of life,” said Timothy Sutherland Director of Air and Marine Operations in San Diego.  “Any loss of life is both tragic and unacceptable, particularly because it was avoidable.  This is yet another sobering moment that reminds us of the price so many victims have paid.”


The five remaining individuals were determined to be Mexican national men ranging from 22 to 51 years of age.  They were all illegally present in the U.S. and were transported to a nearby USBP station for processing.


Chief Heitke added, “I’m proud of all the agents involved and their diligent, lifesaving efforts.”


The captain of the boat, a 51-year-old man, will remain in Federal custody facing criminal charges.  The boat was seized by AMO.

  • Last Modified: May 27, 2022