A boat initially suspected by authorities of being used for smuggling drugs washed ashore in Ocean Beach Friday, and one witness said he saw a group of people hop off the vessel.
Gannon Ritz, a former maritime captain for a local boat rental company, told NBC 7 he spotted the small boat traveling at around 40 mph before it rammed into a reef in very shallow water near the Ocean Beach Pier.
Ritz said it appeared as if the boat intentionally came to a halt near the pier, hopping and skipping for a while.
He said he saw six to seven people jump off the boat and into the water and then run onto the shore. Some people ran over a wall, some scattered off onto the pier, some ran up a hill near some homes in the area, he said.
The boat was left behind, unmanned, running with its lights on.
Ritz changed into board shorts and walked onto the rocks so he could jump into the abandoned boat. He turned off the motor and removed the key from the ignition.
San Diego Fire-Rescue (SDFD) Lifeguards arrived at the scene at around 5:45 a.m. and began investigating. They confirmed no one was inside the vessel.
The San Diego Police Department (SDPD) said investigators suspected the boat might have been linked to drug smuggling; the agencies called U.S. Border Patrol to the beach to aid in the investigation.
Ritz said the people he saw fleeing from the boat didn’t look like they were carrying drugs. To him, it appeared as if the boat was being used for a human smuggling operation, not necessarily to bring narcotics in.
Eduardo Olmos with the U.S. Border Patrol told NBC 7 agents didn't find any evidence on the boat linked to possible smuggling of people or drugs. For now, it's being investigated as an abandoned vessel.
However, lifeguards told NBC 7 the boat appears to have been used for human smuggling. The agency said investigators found flotation devices and gas cans aboard the boat.
Lifeguards towed the boat away just after 9 a.m. Officials with the U.S. Coast Guard were also called out to the scene.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials said their agency's Air and Marine Operations Center will take possession of the boat for now.