Border patrol

‘It's a Pretty Heavy Thing': Fishing Boat Captain Recalls Rescuing 25 Migrants on Panga Lost at Sea

Customs and Border Protection says the San Diego Sector has set a new all-time high for maritime human smuggling attempts in fiscal year 2021

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The charter boat captain helped save the lives of 25 migrants adrift off San Diego's coast for days, without food or water, is sharing how the experience impacted him.

It comes as U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents say they've seen a record-setting increase in smugglers taking sea routes to get foreigners into the United States.

U.S. Border Patrol recently started a Maritime Unit to patrol the waters off the coast of San Diego because of the increase in human smuggling activity, like the May operation that saw three people die and 27 others injured when their panga broke apart after slamming into the rocks off Point Loma.

Captain Markus Medak didn’t witness that deadly event, but the one he and his crew came upon at around 1 a.m. on Oct. 22 shook him to his core.

“This was very surprising because we were way off the beaten path," said Captain Markus Medak. “It’s a pretty heavy thing to be there in the right place to keep something really tragic from happening and I think that would have been the end result."

Medak said while onboard his sportfishing charter, the New Lo-An, he saw someone in the distance waving a light so he motored closer.

That's when he and his crew discovered a panga with several people on board crying for water and gas.

Twenty-five migrants, some of them children, were on board the broken-down boat meant to hold just four people.  It was stranded 90 miles off the coast of Point Loma.

Medak says the leaders onboard the panga told him they'd been adrift for three days with no food, water or life jackets.

“It sure seemed like they didn’t care too much about their passengers. Very different from how I treat mine. It didn't seem safety was paramount," Medak said.

In fiscal year 2019 there were 194 maritime smuggling attempts made resulting in 660 arrests, according to CBP data.

The following year, smuggling attempts jumped to an all-time high of 309 and apprehensions more than doubling to over 1,200.

Though final numbers haven't been released yet for fiscal year 2021, CBP says as of Sept. 1, there have already been 356 smuggling attempts and more than 1,800 apprehension.

“I felt there was an awful lot of luck in us being able to find something and do something about it," said Medak, who’s thankful the migrants he and his crew discovered didn’t become part of the more than 25 people who’ve died in human smuggling attempts in the San Diego sector.

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