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November 17, 09

NEWS / Distressing Weekend Rescue at Sea by Good Samaritans Highlight Risks of Illegal Crossings

CBP Officials Caution Not to Put Lives in Jeopardy, Trusting Smugglers

San Diego — After a harrowing weekend rescue by a private vessel in Mexican waters, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials urge anyone considering attempting to cross into the United States illegally by boat to put their safety first and not place their lives in the hands of smugglers.

“For smugglers, money is paramount; it has more value than human life or safety,” said Paul Morris, director of Field Operations for CBP in San Diego. “People should not risk their lives by attempting a dangerous, illegal crossing.”

At approximately 3 p.m. on Friday, November 13, the crew of the Island Princess, a private vessel, called in to U.S. authorities that they had picked up eight people in distress in Mexican waters, and were transporting them to the Customs and Border Protection dock at Shelter Island. A CBP marine interception vessel responded and escorted the boat into San Diego Bay.

CBP officers and local medical first responders met the private boat at the dock. All eight persons, seven men and one pregnant woman, were provided medical attention; first responders sent five of the men immediately to local hospitals. Later Friday evening, the additional three persons were also transported to local hospitals. The eight were suffering from apparent dehydration and possible hypothermia, and one of the men had a laceration on his arm requiring attention.

CBP officers determined that all eight persons are Mexican nationals who are not lawfully able to enter the United States. During interviews with CBP officers, the eight stated that they were intending to attempt to cross by boat illegally into the United States. The individuals were paying $3,500-$4,500 each to be smuggled into the United States.

During interviews, they stated that they were directed to board a small vessel, which appeared to be built to hold four to five people. However, about twice that many were put onboard. No one was provided with life preservers or other flotation devices.

After embarking, the outboard motor on the over-loaded boat stalled. In the ocean swell, the small boat began taking on water. According to statements provided during interviews with CBP officers, the boat capsized Thursday evening. The eight were found on top of the capsized boat by the crew of the good Samaritan vessel on Friday, about 24 hours later. According to the crew, one U.S. citizen and two British citizens, they found the capsized boat about two miles off the coast of the southern end of Tijuana.

On Monday, November 16, one person from the capsized boat remained in a local San Diego hospital, one remained in the custody of U.S. authorities, and six were released to authorities in Mexico. The incident is still under investigation, and CBP is cooperating with Mexican authorities regarding potential smuggling prosecutions and arrests.

CBP officers have determined that three of the eight persons had already been stopped by CBP on previous occasions trying to enter the United States illegally; one of the three had a previous criminal conviction on a cocaine-related charge. A fourth had been deported previously, and carried a conviction for cruelty toward his wife.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, an unprotected person in the water can become unconscious due to hypothermia in as little as an hour.

“Clearly, these people had been placed at risk by unscrupulous smugglers and were lucky to be rescued,” said Director Paul Morris. “Fighting the ocean in a small boat with too much weight is a gamble in the best of conditions. With the height of winter fast approaching, the water is only going to get colder and the swells bigger.”




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