A U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer and a suspected smuggler died in a shootout Thursday off the coast of Puerto Rico, authorities said. Two other US officers were wounded.
The CBP’s air and sea operations unit was on a routine patrol around 8 am Thursday when shots were fired about 12 miles (19 kilometers) off the coast of Cabo Rojo, a major drug trafficking corridor for the cocaine sourced from South America known as Mona Passage, the agency said. It is located between the west coast of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
Three CBP maritime interdiction officers exchanged gunfire with two people who were aboard the suspected smuggling vessel, officials said. All three officers were killed and airlifted to local hospitals in Puerto Rico.
One of the officers was later pronounced dead. The agent’s identity was not immediately released and the condition of the other two agents was not immediately clear.
One of the people aboard the alleged smuggling vessel was also killed, officials said. The second person on that ship has been arrested.
After the shooting, another US Marine interdiction team intercepted another boat nearby, finding firearms and other contraband on board, Customs and Border Protection said. The two people on that ship were also arrested.
The FBI is conducting an investigation into the shooting.
Speaking to reporters in Puerto Rico, CBP spokesman Jeffrey Quiñones said it was too early to know where the ship came from, the nationalities of its two passengers and whether it was carrying narcotics or serving another suspected drug vessel in the Caribbean.
Typically, drug cartels recruit poor fishermen from Colombia and Venezuela to transport large quantities of cocaine north to the Dominican Republic, where it is broken up into smaller bales and moved out to sea on waiting vessels manned by Puerto Rican drug traffickers. better paid and sometimes well armed. runners.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in testimony before a Senate committee that an air and sea operations operative was killed and several other operatives were “seriously injured.”
“These are brave members of our air and sea operations within US Customs and Border Protection,” Mayorkas said. “So the difficulty of this job cannot be compared to the difficulty our frontline staff face every day. Their bravery and selfless service should be recognized.”
Air and Marine Operations employs approximately 1,650 people and is one of the smallest units of CBP, the largest law enforcement agency in the United States which also includes the Border Patrol. It works to stop the illegal movement of people, drugs and other goods.
The unit detected 218 “conventional aircraft incursions” on U.S. soil in fiscal year 2021, seized 1.1 million pounds of narcotics, $73.1 million in illicit currency, made more than 122,000 arrests and rescued 518 people , according to the CBP.
Goodman reported from Miami. Associated Press writers Rebecca Santana and Eric Tucker in Washington contributed to this report.
This version fixes the location of the shooting to be 12 miles off the coast of Puerto Rico, not 144 miles.