NEWBURYPORT – Massachusetts Environmental Police said overcrowding caused a boat sinking that forced 11 people to jump into the Merrimack River. 

"Initial findings from MEP’s investigation indicate the boat was overloaded," spokesman Craig Gilvarg said in an email. 

The boat capsized June 23 about 6 p.m. at the mouth of the river, prompting a response from the Coast Guard, Newburyport Harbormaster Paul Hogg and Environmental Police. Some of those in the water were lifted onto a private vessel that stopped to assist. 

Gilvarg said because all 11 people were wearing life jackets, the capsizing and sinking of the 20-foot Sea Ray power boat did not end in tragedy. 

"The intervention by a local harbormaster (in Gloucester) who ensured that there were enough life jackets for everyone on the vessel before it departed the harbor – and that everyone on the vessel was wearing a life jacket at the time the vessel capsized – resulted in the positive outcome of no loss of life as a result of the incident," Gilvarg said. 

The victims were in their teens and 20s and were coming to gas up in Newburyport after leaving Wingaersheek Beach in Gloucester, according to Hogg. 

The mouth of the Merrimack had 5- to- 6-foot waves and was foggy at the time of the accident, Hogg added.  

Gilvarg said the capsized boat's owner was interviewed and the case remained under investigation as of Wednesday.

"MEP encourages all boaters to practice safe and responsible boating, including always operating at reasonable speeds, and wearing a life jacket when on the water," Gilvarg said in a statement. 

Salisbury Harbormaster Ray Pike said earlier this week he had no doubts that the boat was overloaded when told 11 people were on a 20-foot craft. 

Pike, who retired Tuesday, called it a "stupid decision."

“It’s not pushing it, it’s well beyond pushing it,” Pike said. 

Staff writer Dave Rogers can be reached at drogers@newburyportnews.com. Follow him on Twitter @drogers41008.

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