US agent, suspected smuggler killed in gunfight off Puerto Rico coast

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WASHINGTON (TBEN) — A U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent and a suspected smuggler were killed Thursday in a shootout off the coast of Puerto Rico, authorities said. Two other American officers were wounded.

CBP’s Air and Marine Operations unit was on routine patrol around 8 a.m. Thursday when shots were fired about 12 miles offshore from Cabo Rojo, a major drug trafficking route for cocaine from South America known as the Mona Passage. , the agency said. It is located between the west coast of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.

Three CBP Marine Interdiction Agents exchanged gunfire with two people aboard the suspected smuggling vessel, officials said. All three officers were shot and airlifted to local hospitals in Puerto Rico.

One of the people aboard the suspected smuggling ship was also killed, officials said. The second person on that ship was arrested.

After the shooting, another US Navy crew intercepted another boat nearby and found firearms and other contraband on board, Customs and Border Protection said. The two people on that ship were also arrested.

The FBI is leading the investigation into the shooting.

Federal agents await news of their injured colleagues outside Rio Piedras Medical Center in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Thursday, Nov. Mona Passage. A U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent and a suspected smuggler were killed in a shootout off the Puerto Rican coast on Thursday, authorities said. (Courtesy of Carlos Giusti/GFR MEDIA via TBEN)

Typically, drug cartels recruit poor fishermen from Colombia and Venezuela to ship large quantities of cocaine northward to the Dominican Republic, where it is broken down into smaller bales and transferred at sea to waiting ships manned by better-paid, sometimes well-armed Puerto Rican drugs. runners.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in testimony before a Senate Judiciary Committee that an Air and Marine Operations agent was killed and several other officers were “seriously injured.”

Air and Marine Operations employs approximately 1,650 people and is one of the smaller 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 raids” 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 CBP.

Goodman reported from Miami. The Bharat Express News writer Rebecca Santana in Washington contributed to this report.