March 2010 home page


Human Smuggling
Jon Edelbrock | Del Mar Lifeguards

30-foot panga boat shown beached on shore
Saturday morning, January 16, 2010.
Photo Anthony Porello of the Union Tribune.

Nearly two and a half years have passed since the first of many abandoned human smuggling boats landed on the beaches of Del Mar. What seemed like an isolated incident unlike anything we’d seen in Del Mar, became common news both in Del Mar and the San Diego coastline. While the trend of often coming ashore in Del Mar itself has diminished, Lifeguards along with local and federal authorities have seen many common trends in addition to continued escalation of smuggling missions.

I can remember the first call we received in the early morning hours back in October 2007. A twenty-foot, open-bow Sea Ray had run ashore sometime before dawn at North Beach. With no owners in sight, we had a look onboard the vessel. The search led to a few Spartan items: multiple jerry cans of fuel, life jackets on the boat as well strewn up the beach, and small amounts of food with Spanish labels. Little did we realize how commonplace this scene would become over the upcoming months. Boats and their human cargo would soon land in Imperial Beach, Oceanside, and nearly every beach in between.

While Lifeguards are often met with new challenges, most of our work is routine. This call, however, was quite different.

As with all incidents, a Lifeguard’s primary concern is safety. Is the scene safe for us to enter? Are there victims in need of assistance? Is the vessel secure and is it a concern for public safety? It was with this conscience that we entered the first scene as well as each call we’ve been involved with to date. We quickly realized, based on the immediate attention from Federal ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agents, Coast Guard, and local law authorities, there were broader implications with human trafficking. Human trafficking can be very profitable. With an estimated twenty to twenty-five individuals onboard paying in the two to five thousand dollar range, the balance sheet looks nice in a country where income per capita is just north of eleven thousand US dollars; only slightly more than twice the upper figure. As the borders have tightened in recent months, many, desperate to be closer to family and the increased income potential the United States has to offer, are willing to pay the high toll and to take the risk. Lifeguards witnessed the climax of the potential risk as they participated in the search and recovery of the Torrey Pines beach incident on January 16th that led to death of two individuals emigrating from Mexico.

The demand to immigrate to the United States still exists for many. For traffickers and passengers, this method of entering the USA is still viable and worth the risk despite the increase in pressure from law enforcement. Despite the increase in knowledge and pressure on the traffickers, these smuggling attempts are ongoing. Knowing the likelihood of more boats to come, our marching orders remain the same now as they did with the first call: make sure the scene is safe, treat any patients, and alert law enforcement. Should you witness an event like this, call 911 after-hours or Lifeguards during the day.


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