SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — The captain and crew of a San Diego charter boat company came to the aid of 18 people stranded on a small vessel on Monday, according to social media posts by the company.
Islander Sportfishing in Point Loma was returning from a one-and-a-half-day fishing trip around 10:30 p.m. Monday when it came across the small boat in Mexican waters, the company said Friday. They discovered 18 people, including three children, who had apparently been abandoned by a human smuggler five days earlier.
The people stranded had no food, water, life vests, beds, bathroom access, or paddles, according to the charter boat company. The crew of the fishing boat was told there had originally been two boats traveling together but one broke down and the person smuggling the group said he would be back in 10 – 12 hours but never returned.
“It was standing room only, in a boat the size of a pickup truck, in either the blazing heat or pitch-black seas, for these poor souls desperate for a better life,” the company's Facebook post read in part.
Night Captain Sydney Shaw of The Islander reportedly heard the group on the smaller vessel yelling and saw them flashing a light. Owner of the Islander Captain John Coniff then turned back and contacted the U.S. Coast Guard who responded to the scene about 48 miles away from San Diego.
"In these waters, you don't necessarily want to stop when you see people in a boat," he said. "We could tell it was people who needed help."
The incident was turned over the Mexican Navy because it happened in Mexican waters, according to Islander Sportfishing. The crew on the fishing boat fed the group on the other boat and waited with them for three hours until the local authorities arrived to tow them back to land.
"It was kind of surreal," said Coniff. "You see a lot in the news with that stuff that goes on. Obviously, we see a lot of stuff in these waters here, but that's the first time I've come in contact with a boat full of people that desperate and I'm not the only guy who's run into that situation."
“For all that's going on in this crazy year, please remember to be thankful of where we live,” Islander Sportfishing wrote in part online. “America is still the land of opportunity and freedom, so much so that many people will risk their lives for a chance to live here.”
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the smaller vessel as a panga boat.