By Holly Matkin and Sandy Malone
Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico – A U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Marine Interdiction agent was fatally shot and two other agents were wounded during a gun battle with alleged drug smugglers off the coast of Puerto Rico on Thursday.
The confrontation occurred approximately 14 miles off the southwest coast of the island, near Cabo Rojo, at approximately 8 a.m., FOX News reported.
“On Nov. 17, at approximately 8:00AM, three CBP Marine Interdiction Agents were involved in an exchange of gunfire with individuals on board a suspected smuggling vessel upon approach 14 miles off the coast of Cabo Rojo Puerto Rico,” CBP said in a statement.
The encounter took place along the Mona Passage, a major corridor for smugglers running cocaine from South America, the Associated Press reported.
The three agents were shot during an exchange of gunfire with two suspects who were aboard the alleged smuggling vessel, the agency said.
One of the suspects was killed in the gunfight, the Associated Press reported.
The second suspect was arrested.
The three wounded CBP agents were airlifted to hospitals in Puerto Rico, where one agent was pronounced dead.
He was later identified as 44-year-old CBP Marine Interdiction Agent Michel Maceda, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.
“An agent that was transported directly to a hospital in Mayagüez, we were told just a few minutes ago, they have confirmed he has passed away,” said CBP Spokesperson Jeffrey Quinones, according to CNN. “We cannot provide any other details on the agent until family is notified.”
Puerto Rico Medical Services Administration Medical Director Israel Ayala said on Thursday night that one of the surviving wounded agents remained in critical condition, and the other is in stable condition, CNN reported.
“One of them was immediately admitted to the stabilization unit and is being treated by emergency physicians and trauma surgeons,” Ayala said. “Meanwhile, the other agent is in an area that we call minor surgery and is also being evaluated and treated by the emergency room and trauma services.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is leading the ongoing investigation into the deadly shootout, the Associated Press reported.
Quinones said investigators are working to determine where the boat was coming from, as well as the nationalities of its passengers.
“These are brave members of our Air and Marine Operations within U.S. Customs and Border Protection,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told a Senate committee after the gun battle, according to the Associated Press. “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.”
Later the same morning, a second U.S. marine interdiction team intercepted another nearby smuggling vessel and arrested two suspects they found on board, the Associated Press reported.
Investigators also seized multiple firearms and other contraband from the boat.
The CBP said both suspects apprehended on the vessel are U.S. citizens, ABC News reported.