The U.S. Coast Guard has ended its search for survivors after a boat capsized off San Diego, killing three and injuring dozens.

Authorities believe the boat, which had at least 30 people on board, was used to smuggle migrants into the United States and that the man who ran the ship has been arrested.

The Coast Guard was contacted early Sunday by a commercial boat that saw the vessel overturning on rocks off the Point Loma peninsula in southern California.

Footage of people on the shore shows the small boat tossed around in the waves and people trying to swim to shore. Officials described the vessel as a “40-foot trawler-type vessel.”

The accident left a “large field of debris” of broken wood in the water on Sunday, according to to the local fire department.

Rick Romero, a lifeguard lieutenant from San Diego, told a press conference on Sunday that by the time officials arrived on the chaotic scene, “the boat was essentially broken.”

“There were people in the water drowning, getting sucked into the rip current,” Romero said, adding that officials were performing CPR resuscitation on several people on the shore.

Other injuries suffered by the victims range from hypothermia to injuries caused by the capsizing of the boat. Weather conditions made it difficult for rescuers to reach people in the water, with choppy waves and swells of at least 7 feet off shore.

The vessel had the characteristics of an attempted smuggling from Mexico gone awry, although authorities stopped before confirming it. Kelly Thornton, spokesperson for the US Attorney’s Office in San Diego, declined to comment after the captain was taken into custody, saying prosecutors are “carefully reviewing the case.”

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) believes the boat was a “contraband vessel used to smuggle migrants into the United States,” Jeff Stephenson, a border guard at the border, told a conference Press.

Rescuers on the scene Sunday.
Rescuers on the scene Sunday. Photograph: San Diego Fire-Rescue / ZUMA Wire / REX / Shutterstock

CBP did not confirm the nationality of those on board the ship, and authorities did not release identifying information on those who did not survive the wreckage of the ship.

Mexico’s foreign minister said there were 25 men and eight women on board, the majority of them Mexican citizens.

Smuggling has become a booming business as migrants pay for transportation across the US border, which often requires crossing areas considered to be drug cartel territory. The capsizing is one of many recent incidents that highlight the often perilous conditions migrants face when attempting to enter the United States with smugglers.

In March, a trailer truck crashed into an SUV carrying 25 passengers in southern California, killing 13 Mexican and Guatemalan citizens.

And in February, authorities received a frightening 911 call from a migrant who said he was trapped in a tanker truck in San Antonio, Texas, along with 80 other people, who were struggling to breathe.

Just two days before Sunday’s incident, CBP ad it would step up operations to intercept smuggling operations off San Diego after seeing “a dramatic increase” in the number of attempts to bring undocumented migrants to the United States by sea.

Last Thursday, CBP disturbed a ship carrying 21 people, 15 men and 6 women of Mexican nationality, off Point Loma. Two people on the boat will face federal charges related to contraband, according to a press release.

Smuggling off the California coast has increased and increased over the years, but has long been a risky alternative for migrants to avoid heavily guarded land borders. Small single or twin motor boats enter Mexico in the middle of the night, sometimes traveling hundreds of kilometers north. Pleasure boats, like the one that capsized on Sunday, try to mingle unnoticed with fishing and pleasure boats during the day.

Maritime apprehensions have been increasing “steadily” since October 2019, said Stephenson, increasing 92% by September 2020.

“The smugglers don’t care about the people they exploit. All they care about is profit. To them, these people are just commodities, ”Stephenson said.