CABO ROJO, Puerto Rico. – Three agents with U.S. Customs and Border Protection were shot Thursday morning off the coast of Puerto Rico, one of whom has since passed away, officials confirmed.
Around 8 a.m., agents with the specialized Air and Marine Operations unit were responding to a suspected smuggling boat that was about 14 miles off the coast of Cabo Rojo when authorities said there was an exchange of gunfire between the agents and two people on the suspected smuggling boat.
One of those people was killed by agents and the other was arrested, authorities confirmed.
CBP officials confirmed that the three agents were airlifted to a trauma center in Puerto Rico with assistance from the U.S. Coast Guard. The conditions of the two surviving agents have not yet been released.
After the shooting, another U.S. marine interdiction crew intercepted another boat nearby, finding firearms and other contraband onboard, Customs and Border Protection said. The two people on that ship were also arrested.
The FBI is leading the investigation into the shooting.
Speaking to reporters in Puerto Rico, CBP spokesman Jeffrey Quiñones said it was too early to know where the vessel originated from, the nationality of its two passengers and whether it was carrying narcotics or servicing another suspected drug vessel in the Caribbean.
Typically, drug cartels recruit poor fishermen from Colombia and Venezuela to transport large amounts of cocaine northward to the Dominican Republic where it is broken down into smaller bales and transferred at sea to waiting vessels manned by better-paid, sometimes well-armed Puerto Rican drug runners.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in testimony before a Senate committee that the Air and Marine Operations agent was killed and several other agents were “gravely wounded.”
“These are brave members of our Air and Marine Operations within U.S. Customs and Border Protection,” Mayorkas said. “So the difficulty of this job cannot be compared to the difficulty that our frontline personnel face every day. Their bravery and selfless service should be recognized.”
Air and Marine Operations employs about 1,650 people and is one of the smaller units of CBP, the largest law enforcement agency in the United States that 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 the 2021 fiscal year, seized 1.1 million pounds of narcotics, $73.1 million in illicit currency, made more than 122,000 arrests and recued 518 people, according to CBP.
“Mourning bands are authorized for wear by all CBP uniformed personnel, and CBP flags are to be flown at half-staff,” Acting Commissioner Troy A. Miller said in a statement after the shooting. “We offer our strength and support to the family, friends and colleagues of these agents during this extremely difficult time and ask that you continue to keep them in your thoughts and prayers.
Miller said the CBP will continue working with its investigative partners “to ensure those responsible will be brought to justice, and will share additional information as we are able.”
Local 10 has been embedded with AMO agents in South Florida over the last year to see the work they do protecting Florida’s coastline and conducting rescue operations.
Earlier this month, agents spoke with Local 10 about the surge of migrants and smugglers that continue to head to South Florida from Cuba, the Caribbean and the Bahamian islands.