SAN DIEGO (AP) -- Three of the 15 people who were stranded on a boat for three days off the Pacific Coast have been arrested on suspicion of smuggling illegal immigrants.
Others aboard the rickety vessel told investigators they had agreed to pay $4,000 each for the illegal trip from Mexico to California, said Lauren Mack, a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The three suspects were due in court Thursday.
Four women and 11 men were rescued from the boat Wednesday about 12 miles off the San Diego coast and 20 miles north of the Mexican border. Aside from the suspects, three passengers were being held as material witnesses, while the rest were being sent home to Mexico or El Salvador.
The trip started in a Mexican fishing village south of Tijuana and near Playas de Rosarito, said Mike Unzueta, the lead ICE investigator in San Diego.
The smugglers switched boats on Mexico's Coronado Islands but the boat's engine died about 20 minutes after they left; it may have had engine trouble or run out of fuel.
"They say they had been dead in the water for three days," said CBP spokesman Vince Bond. "No reported injuries. They were just hungry, thirsty and sunburned."
The rescue comes amid a spate of smuggling attempts on California's Pacific waters.
ICE agents have identified about 20 boats used for human smuggling in the San Diego area since August, Mack said. Those makeshift watercraft were found adrift, washed ashore or carrying illegal immigrants.
No deaths or serious injuries have been reported in those attempts.