By Marty Graham
SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - A woman aboard a suspected immigrant smuggling boat died on Thursday after the skiff collided with a U.S. Customs and Border Protection vessel in the waters off the coast of southern California, customs officials said.
Nineteen other occupants on the boat, which officials suspected was carrying undocumented immigrants attempting to enter the country, were taken into custody after the early morning crash, the agency said in a statement.
The vessel was first spotted off the coast of Encinitas, a city about 22 miles (35 km) north of San Diego, by Customs' Office of Air and Marine, according to a Customs spokeswoman.
The Customs boat hailed the skiff and ordered its occupants to surrender, but the agency said their orders were ignored.
Federal agents then fired warning shots into the air and were closing in when the two watercraft collided, dumping the 20 occupants into the ocean, the statement said.
Federal agents pulled the passengers from the water and discovered one woman was unconscious. The woman, who was not officially identified, was taken by U.S. Coast Guard helicopter to a local hospital where she was pronounced dead, a dispatcher with the Coast Guard said.
Border Patrol agents met the Customs boat and took the 19 survivors into custody, the Los Angeles Times reported. The paper said four of the occupants were hospitalized.
Border enforcers have reported increasing numbers of attempts to smuggle people and drugs at sea since 2012 as land routes have become harder to use.
(Editing by Curtis Skinner and Dominic Evans)