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PLNU Responds to Shipwreck of Migrant-Smuggling Vessel near Cabrillo National Monument

View of the water from McCullough Park on campus. Photo by Rebecca Elliott.

On Sunday, May 2, a vessel carrying 32 people overturned in the tide pools near Cabrillo National Monument, roughly four miles away from Point Loma Nazarene University. Three people died as a result of the shipwreck and five others were hospitalized. In a statement, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said the boat was attempting to smuggle migrants across the border. All but two individuals on the boat were Mexican nationals. The other individuals included a Guatemalan national and a US citizen who US Customs and Border Protection identified as the boat’s captain.

The capsized ship required a large response team as members of the San Diego Fire Department, the US Coast Guard, local lifeguards and US Customs and Border Protection personnel rushed to the scene to search for possible victims. An hour after the incident occured, PLNU students received a public safety alert via email that emergency services were responding to the accident at Cabrillo and that there was no impact to campus. The Point reached out to Cabrillo National Monument Park service but did not receive a response regarding the wreck.  

Kaz Trypuc, supervisor of PLNU’s Department of Public Safety, said Public Safety does not actively monitor the coastal activities near the school unless they are alerted by authorities.

“There’s been a jet ski accident, surfers who get caught in the tide and another time a sailboat was in distress,” Trypuc said. “The authorities are good about communicating with the school. Usually, they just need access to the campus.”

Trypuc said PLNU has no specific safety protocol in place when it comes to human smuggling vessels that might come near the school. 

“‘We can’t plan for everything, but we have systems in place that can be deployed in a variety of situations,” Trypuc stated. 

Some of these systems include performing a campus-wide lockdown and utilizing the emergency alert system that notifies students if there is an emergency near campus. Trypuc specified this would only be done if authorities first communicated with PLNU that these measures were a necessary response to a situation near or on the campus, adding that PLNU’s public safety follows the guidance of authorities when responding to emergencies.

“I think it’s important to not equate migrants with danger,” Trypuc said. “In this case, they were the ones in danger and needing assistance.”

Jamie Gates, professor of sociology at PLNU, said as Christians, there is a mandate to care for the most vulnerable and welcome the strangers, which includes immigrants.

“Think about the desperation people have to cross the border and pay thousands of dollars to make it,” Gates said. “Think about the humanity of the officers and authorities trying to work, who have families. They put themselves in danger too.”

Gates also noted there is an important distinction between smuggling and human trafficking. Smuggling, Gates said, is when someone pays someone else to take them across the border. Danger and exploitation can occur, but those who are attempting to be smuggled are consenting to the journey. On the other hand, Gates defined human trafficking as involving force, fraud or coercion. This could look like someone being forced to do labor or being exploited for profit against their will. In some cases, smuggling can turn into human trafficking if the smuggler kidnaps, holds hostage and extorts the migrant for more money, sex or labor.

Gates said there are different ways students at PLNU can be actively involved in helping migrants.

“They can dig deeper by researching what happens to families when they come [across the border]. They should also acknowledge that Border Patrol saves lives. If they want to do more they can connect with churches and nonprofits that work with immigrants,” Gates said.

Brian Becker, Director of International Ministries at PLNU, said the shipwreck is an example of how the current U.S. immigration policies fail. 

“Without legal pathways toward a life and stable work income in the USA, more people will turn to smugglers,” Becker said. “The reinforced border wall makes land crossing in San Diego more difficult.” 

 Border Patrol leaders, Becker said, talk about operational control of the urban land border and increased calm in communities near the wall, places that used to be more frequently crossed on foot. Yet human smugglers are taking their illicit commerce into the nearby desert and over the sea — places where humans are at far greater risk of death from harsh elements. 

“We as a PLNU community need to stay informed about tragedies and injustice that happen right at our doorstep,” said Becker. 

By: Jen Pfeiler and Anna Carlson