WASHINGTON (AP) — A U.S. Customs and Border Safety agent and a suspected smuggler died throughout a shootout Thursday off the Puerto Rico coast, authorities mentioned. Two different U.S. officers have been injured.

CBP’s Air and Marine Operations unit was on routine patrol round 8 a.m. Thursday when the photographs have been fired about 12 miles (19 kilometers) off the coast from Cabo Rojo, a significant drug smuggling hall for cocaine popping out of South America referred to as the Mona Passage, the company mentioned. It lies between Puerto Rico’s western shoreline and the Dominican Republic.

Three CBP Marine Interdiction Brokers exchanged gunfire with two individuals who have been aboard the suspected smuggling ship, officers mentioned. All three brokers have been shot and airlifted to native hospitals in Puerto Rico.

One of many brokers was later pronounced useless. The agent’s identification was not instantly launched and the situation of the opposite two brokers was not instantly clear.

One of many folks aboard the suspected smuggling ship was additionally killed, officers mentioned. The second individual on that vessel was arrested.

After the capturing, one other U.S. marine interdiction crew intercepted one other boat close by, discovering firearms and different contraband onboard, Customs and Border Safety mentioned. The 2 folks on that ship have been additionally arrested.

The FBI is main the investigation into the capturing.

Federal brokers watch for information of their injured colleagues outdoors the Rio Piedras Medical Middle in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022, who have been airlifted from the coast of Cabo Rojo, a significant drug smuggling hall for cocaine popping out of South America referred to as the Mona Passage. A U.S. Customs and Border Safety agent and a suspected smuggler died throughout a shootout Thursday off the Puerto Rican coast, authorities mentioned. (Courtesy of Carlos Giusti/GFR MEDIA by way of AP)

Chatting with reporters in Puerto Rico, CBP spokesman Jeffrey Quiñones mentioned it was too early to know the place the vessel originated from, the nationality of its two passengers and whether or not it was carrying narcotics or servicing one other suspected drug vessel within the Caribbean.

Sometimes, drug cartels recruit poor fishermen from Colombia and Venezuela to move massive quantities of cocaine northward to the Dominican Republic the place it’s damaged down into smaller bales and transferred at sea to ready vessels manned by better-paid, typically well-armed Puerto Rican drug runners.

Homeland Safety Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas mentioned in testimony earlier than a Senate committee that an Air and Marine Operations agent was killed and several other different brokers have been “gravely wounded.”

“These are courageous members of our Air and Marine Operations inside U.S. Customs and Border Safety,” Mayorkas mentioned. “So the problem of this job can’t be in comparison with the problem that our frontline personnel face every single day. Their bravery and selfless service ought to be acknowledged.”

Air and Marine Operations employs about 1,650 folks and is likely one of the smaller items of CBP, the most important regulation enforcement company in the USA that additionally consists of the Border Patrol. It really works to cease the unlawful motion of individuals, medication and different items.

The unit detected 218 “typical plane incursions” on U.S. soil within the 2021 fiscal 12 months, seized 1.1 million kilos of narcotics, $73.1 million in illicit foreign money, made greater than 122,000 arrests and rescued 518 folks, based on CBP.

Goodman reported from Miami. Related Press author Rebecca Santana in Washington contributed to this report.

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