Boat people?

Matthew Hoy
By Matthew Hoy on September 6, 2007

There may be nothing more to it than an especially industrious group of illegal immigrants from Mexico, but some of the details -- and the timing -- give this story a more ominous cast.

SAN DIEGO – A boat that may have been used to smuggle people into the United States washed ashore in La Jolla Wednesday morning.

San Diego lifeguards were notified at 4:20 a.m. that the 20-foot skipjack was on Wipeout Beach, which is just south of the lifeguard tower at Children's Pool, city lifeguard Lt. Andy Lerum said.

A homeless woman sleeping nearby told lifeguards she saw about 10 people dressed in black come out of the water and run away, Lerum said.

Lifeguards found fuel tanks aboard the boat as well as water bottles with Spanish-language labels, Lerum said. Several brightly-colored life jackets were strewn along the sand.

Ten people dressed in black. They have life preservers -- not something your typical smuggler interested in getting the maximum number of people on the boat would typically provide. This occurs six days before the sixth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

The incident is being investigated by the Border Patrol and the Coast Guard, but the only quotes are from a lifeguard lieutenant -- and I'm not buying some of his explanations.

The boat was registered to a San Diego resident who sold it in 2002; it has not been registered since, Lerum said.

He said boats are frequently abandoned along the local coast.

“For years and years there have been boats abandoned onshore,” he said. “Whether it's smuggling people or contraband it happens on a frequent basis.”

He said the last incident was in June in Point Loma. No passengers were found in that case.

I'm not sure I'd characterize once every two months -- six times a year -- as frequent.

The whole incident has a certain odor to it. It's not your typical human-smuggling operation. If you were using a boat for a smuggling operation, it seems like there would be plenty of places to drop off your passengers that wouldn't endanger your way of making a living -- i.e. the boat.

Nowadays there are plenty of good reasons to be a little paranoid. I certainly hope the Border Patrol and Coast Guard are keeping an open mind to the possibility that this could be something more than just illegal aliens coming here to pick strawberries.


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September 2007



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