Fifteen people were rescued from a boat off the Pacific Coast Wednesday after they were adrift for three days in an apparent human smuggling attempt gone bad, authorities said.
Officials of the U.S. Coast Guard and the Customs and Border Protection agency found the 24-foot vessel several miles offshore, north of the Mexican border, according to the Customs and Border Protection agency. There was no food or water on board, and some people were dehydrated and sunburned, but no one required medical treatment, he said.
Eleven men and four women were taken to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego and placed in the custody of immigration authorities, said Vince Bond, a Customs spokesman.
Fourteen passengers were Mexican and one was Salvadoran, said Lauren Mack, a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. It was not immediately clear whether smugglers were among them.
Alberto Lozano, a spokesman for the Mexican Consulate in San Diego, said the passengers entered the U.S. illegally.
All the passengers said they were idled for three days, said Bond. The vessel may have had engine trouble or run out of fuel.
"They say they had been dead in the water for three days," Bond said. "No reported injuries. They were just hungry, thirsty and sunburned."
Flurry of smuggling attempts
A pleasure cruise noticed people waving from the boat and called a private towing company, which alerted authorities, Bond said.
The rescue comes amid a spate of smuggling attempts in California's Pacific waters.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents have identified about 20 human smuggling boats in the San Diego area since August, said spokeswoman Lauren Mack. Those makeshift watercraft were found adrift, washed ashore or carrying illegal immigrants.
No deaths or serious injuries have been reported in those attempts.
It is unclear whether sea smuggling is on the rise because ICE hasn't kept a tally, but it is unusual for smugglers to attempt an ocean route in the winter, Mack said.
The boats are often launched on the 50-mile Mexican coastal stretch south of the border, between Tijuana and Ensenada, and many land in Del Mar, an upscale San Diego suburb about 30 miles north of the border, Mack said. The boats are usually guided by inexperienced seamen.