Crime

3 U.S. Customs Agents Shot, Wounded Off Coast Of Puerto Rico

U.S. Customs and Border Protection says the agents were airlifted to a trauma center after exchanging gunfire with suspected smugglers.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
Mariam Zuhaib / AP
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Three U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents have been wounded after exchanging gunfire with people “on board a suspected smuggling vessel” off the coast of Puerto Rico, officials said Thursday.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection says the agents suffered various gunshot wounds during the incident that happened around 8 a.m. Thursday. It happened about 144 miles off the coast of Cabo Rojo in Puerto Rico.

The agency said the agents were being airlifted to the Puerto Rico Trauma Center and an investigation is underway.

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Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the officers worked for the agency's Air and Marine Operations unit. He said at a congressional hearing he had been briefed on the “tragic loss of one of our front-line personnel” and said “several others were gravely wounded.”

“These are brave members of our air and marine operations within U.S. Customs and Border Protection,” Mayorkas told a Senate panel Thursday in disclosing the shooting. “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.”

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The Coast Guard has been finding homemade, drug smuggling, half-boat, half-submarine vessels for about a decade.

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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. It uses aircraft and sea assets 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.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.