A border agent has died and two others are ‘gravely’ injured following a shootout off the coast of Puerto Rico early Thursday morning.
Federal officials say a U.S. Customs and EvDEn EVE nAkliyaT Border Protection Air and Marine Operations unit was on routine control about 14 miles off the coast of Cabo Rojo at around 8am local time, when they were interdicting suspected smugglers.
They then became ‘involved in an exchange of gunfire with individuals on board a suspected smuggling vessel,’ border officials say. One of the suspected smugglers also died in the shooting.
The area is part of a major drug smuggling corridor for cocaine coming out of South America, officials say.
First responders rushed to the scene and were seen airlifting agents to a hospital on the nearby island, where agents from Immigration and EVdeN Eve nAkLiyat Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations unit were waiting, the reports.
Two of the suspect smugglers were taken into custody. A Puerto Rico reports that the suspects are American citizens.
During the investigation, authorities seized several bundles of cocaine, firearms and even the boat.
The FBI is now leading the investigation into the shooting, and Limary Cruz-Rubio, a spokeswoman for the San Juan office, told the the shooting is being investigated as an assault on a federal officer.
A border agent was killed and two others were injured in an early morning shootout aboard a suspected smuggling ship off the coast of Puerto Rico
Authorities are seen here outside the hospital the agents were airlifted to on the island
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas spoke about the tragedy in testimony before a Senate committee after learning of the shooting on Thursday, saying other agents on the scene were ‘gravely injured.’
‘These are brave members of our Air and Marine Operations within U.S. Customs and Border Protection,’ he 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.
Air and Maine aircraft and sea assets to stop the illegal movement of people, drugs and other goods.
‘Our country has every right to protect that sovereignty, and we must support policies that put our national security first.’