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Coast Guard investigates post-hurricane hoax call

The Coast Guard is investigating a possible hoax mayday call after distress calls were made Thursday near Narragansett Bay, R.I., a move that diverted helicopters providing "vital support" to Hurricane Sandy victims.

Watchstanders at Coast Guard Sector Southeastern New England in Woods Hole, Mass., received a mayday call Thursday over VHF channel 16 with no position or nature of distress.

"This case is especially frustrating because the helicopters and crews that were used are the same that are providing vital support to the port of New York and the communities affected by Hurricane Sandy across the Eastern Seaboard," Sector Southeastern New England commander Capt. Verne Gifford said in a statement.

Using the Rescue 21 Radio System, watchstanders were able to determine the location of the mayday call as the area around Mount Hope Bay and the Providence River.

A Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew immediately launched an initial search for the source of the call and conducted a second search Friday morning with no correlating signs of distress.

"By policy, the Coast Guard is required to search for every distress call, regardless of the assumed source," Sector Southeastern New England command center chief Lt. Bryan Swintek said in a statement. "Calls like this one needlessly put an unnecessary strain on our crews and divert our attention from mariners who are actually in distress."

Hoax calls are particularly frustrating cases for both the maritime emergency responder and the taxpayers because they unnecessarily put first responders in danger, waste valuable operational hours and come at a heavy cost.

In the last two years there have been 23 hoax calls with a male voice off the Warwick area accounting for more than 100 hours of search time by Coast Guard and local responders and costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Under federal law, knowingly and willfully transmitting a hoax distress call is a felony. It is punishable by as much as six years in prison, a $250,000 fine and restitution to the Coast Guard for all costs incurred while responding to the distress.

The Coast Guard is asking that anyone who recognizes the voice in this mayday call or has any information about it contact Sector Southeastern New England's Command Center at (508) 457-3211.

Click here to listen to the call.

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