Captain Charged in Deadly Boat Smuggling Crash

The U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of California Wednesday charged a man alleged to have captained a boat carrying 32 immigrants attempting to enter the U.S. via the Pacific Ocean.

A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter flies over boats searching the area where a boat capsized just off the San Diego coast Sunday, May 2, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)

SAN DIEGO (CN) — A man alleged to have piloted a boat carrying 32 immigrants attempting to enter the U.S. through the Pacific Ocean was charged Wednesday in the deadly human smuggling event where three immigrants drowned after the boat crashed in rough waters off the coast of San Diego.

Antonio Hurtado was charged Wednesday in the Southern District of California for alleged attempted human smuggling and assault on a federal officer after a 40-foot boat he is accused of driving crashed into the reef off the coast of Point Loma near Cabrillo National Monument around 10 a.m. May 2.

Hurtado has not yet made his first appearance in federal court, according to a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The deadly boat collision comes as maritime human smuggling has been on the rise in San Diego — expected to be up 40% by the end of the fiscal year. So far 909 arrests have been made, according to Customs and Border Protection.

Last week, CBP stopped a panga boat 11 miles off the coast of Point Loma with 21 people on board April 29.

Officials issued a warning prior to the deadly collision they were ramping up land, sea and air operations over the weekend in response to a dramatic increase in the number of maritime smuggling attempts.

The San Diego Union-Tribune reported arrests at sea in the San Diego sector had doubled in 2020 from the year before from 662 to 1,273 arrests. Authorities also seized 118 vessels in 309 smuggling attempts in 2020, up from 80 boats and 195 attempts in 2019.

Maritime smuggling has also been on the rise since former President Donald Trump ramped up construction of the border wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.

According to the 5-page complaint, 33 people were on board the vessel, including Hurtado, and ranged in age from 18-39; 21 men, 6 women and a 15-year-old unaccompanied boy did not have legal status to enter the U.S., according to CBP.

Those onboard the vessel had paid between $15,000 and $18,500 each to be smuggled into the U.S.

Three people pulled out of the water by U.S. Coast Guard and other officials responding to the rescue operation were dead, according to the complaint.

The three people who died were identified in the complaint as Mexican citizens Maricela Hernandez Sanchez, Victor Perez Degollado and Maria Eugenia Chavez Segovia. Fingerprints and immigration records and identification cards found on the individuals were used to identify them, according to the complaint.

The 30 others who were rescued — including Hurtado — were taken to area hospitals to receive treatment. One person remains in critical condition.

Twenty-six of the immigrants told authorities they were Mexican citizens, while one of the people rescued said he is from Guatemala. According to the complaint, 18 of the immigrants identified Hurtado in a six-photo line-up as the captain and person who piloted the vessel from Mexico into U.S. waters.

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