Three Customs and Border Protection agents were shot on Thursday morning in an exchange of gunfire with people on board a suspected smuggling vessel off the coast of Puerto Rico, the agency said.
The three marine interdiction agents sustained “various gunshot injuries” in the encounter, which occurred around 8 a.m., and were airlifted by Customs and Border Protection and the Coast Guard to a hospital in Puerto Rico, the agency said.
Customs and Border Protection did not immediately provide further information about the agents’ conditions or the encounter with the vessel, which was 14 miles off Cabo Rojo, on Puerto Rico’s southwest coast.
Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary, testifying before a Senate committee on Thursday, said he had been briefed on the shooting.
“These are brave members of our air and marine operations within U.S. Customs and Border Protection, so the difficulty of this job cannot be compared to the difficulty that our frontline personnel face every day,” he said. “And their bravery and selfless service should be recognized.”
Limary Cruz-Rubio, a spokeswoman for the F.B.I.’s San Juan field office, said the shooting was being investigated as an assault on a federal officer. She asked for anyone with information about the shooting to contact the authorities and said the bureau’s evidence response team was responding to the scene.
Eileen Sullivan contributed reporting.