2 helicopters, 3 boats respond to false EPIRB

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The Coast Guard spent around 20 hours searching for the 47-foot catamaran Tortuga in the Caribbean earlier this week after its EPIRB reportedly fell overboard and began sending a distress signal.

Coast Guard officials first received the signal Sunday at 1:30 p.m., transmitting from 76 miles west of Guadeloupe in the Leeward Islands. Five hours later a Coast Guard helicopter located a 406 MHz EPIRB floating in the water but found no evidence that a boat had sunk, according to Coast Guard spokesperson Lt. Eric Willis. In total, two Coast Guard helicopters and three merchant vessels assisted in the search.

Tortuga’s owners, Michael Tribe and Ed Healy, were contacted after Coast Guard officials checked the registration on the beacon. Tribe and Healy had hired two French nationals, Florian Flevel and Thierry Vernay, to deliver the sailboat from Martinique to Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Flevel contacted Coast Guard officials from Tortuga Monday night after hearing an urgent broadcast about the catamaran. Willis says the boat and the crew were in no danger. Flevel told the Coast Guard he knew the EPIRB went overboard but wasn’t sure how it happened.

“This is a perfect example of carelessness that cost the Coast Guard a huge effort that could have been used in a real emergency,” Willis says.

Soundings will take a closer look at how false EPIRB transmissions cost the Coast Guard time and money, in the September issue.

— Jason Fell