Air, Marine Operations Crews Rescue 68 Migrants Near Puerto Rico

AGUADILLA, Puerto Rico — A U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Air and Marine Operations (AMO) team, aboard a 41’ Coastal Interceptor Vessel, collaborated with law enforcement partners to rescue 68 undocumented migrants at sea on May 20.

Early that morning, the Mayaguez Marine Unit received a report from a federal partner about a potential maritime smuggling incident near Puerto Rico. In response, Coastal Interceptor Vessel crews were dispatched to search the area, where Air and Marine Agents detected a suspicious vessel near Cabo Rojo.

Despite commands to stop, the vessel attempted to evade capture, dangerously holding a minor female over an outboard engine. The Marine Interdiction Agents managed to stop the severely overloaded vessel and provided life jackets to the migrants on board.

The rescued migrants were transferred to the Coastal Interceptor Vessel and partner vessels operated by the Puerto Rico Police (Fuerzas Unidas de Rapida Acción – FURA). Coordination with U.S. Coast Guard Sector San Juan and U.S. Border Patrol Ramey Sector ensured the safe transfer of all 68 migrants to a nearby Coast Guard Cutter.

“Air and Marine Operations crews are ready to respond to dangerous maritime situations like this,” stated Melvin Garcia, Deputy Director of Marine Operations at the Caribbean Air and Marine Branch. “This situation could have turned into a tragedy with the smugglers’ disregard for human life and the extreme overloading of the vessel.”

AMO’s mission is to safeguard the nation by anticipating and confronting security threats using aviation and maritime law enforcement expertise, innovative capabilities, and partnerships. With approximately 1,800 federal agents and support personnel, 240 aircraft, and 300 marine vessels, AMO operates across the United States, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

In Fiscal Year 2023, AMO’s enforcement actions resulted in 1,004 arrests and 89,909 apprehensions of undocumented individuals. Additionally, they seized or disrupted 256,883 pounds of cocaine, 2,049 pounds of fentanyl, 4,050 pounds of methamphetamine, 2,200 weapons, and $15.3 million in illicit assets.–B Jeffrey Quinones