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Chasing a hoax caller

SEPT. 25 — When the Coast Guard Sector North Carolina received three more in a long line of hoax distress calls between Sept. 13 and 19, they decided enough was enough.

At a press conference Sept. 20, Coast Guard officials urged the public to assist in identifying callers who have been broadcasting a high volume of false distress calls to the station during the past year.

“We are compiling some information about the actual number of hoaxes total [in the past year],” says Ensign Scot McGrew in an interview with Soundings. “By definition it is not a hoax until it is proved a hoax. I would say the mayday calls not giving a location or boat name range from the 40s to 50s; the ones that say, ‘Hey help us’ and nothing else. Out of those the ones that are false could be in the range of 10.”

According to a news release from the Coast Guard, these prank calls are costing the Coast Guard and U.S. taxpayers significant amounts of money. A Coast Guard C-130 aircraft costs $4,244 an hour to operate, Coast Guard helicopters at $4,400 an hour, and cutters at $1,550 an hour. Even small rescue boats can run between $300 and $400 per hour, depending on their size and speed.

The Coast Guard believes that some of the calls may come from the same sources, but there may be more than one person responsible. The news release states that willfully transmitting a false distress call is a Class D Felony, with responsible parties can be fined up to $250,000 and sentenced to up to six years in prison. Those convicted might also have to reimburse the cost of the false search to the Coast Guard station that conducted it.

There will be a reward for information leading to a successful prosecution. Call the Coast Guard Investigative Service in Wilmington, N.C., (910) 772-2229.

— Elizabeth Ellis