One costly nautical prank

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Joe D. Mills, Jr., of Newport,N.C. was sentenced Wednesday to 60 months probation and ordered to pay a court-imposed restitution fee of $45,292.78 by a U.S. district judge for a false distress call last year that resulted in a search-and-rescue effort by multiple agencies, according to a recent Coast Guard press release.

On Sept. 20, 2007, Mills reported a vessel taking on water via a handheld VHF radio — from his backyard. The call was recorded and transmitted directly to Coast Guard Sector North Carolina, which was unable to reach Mills after the call was placed. The Coast Guard spent significant resources trying to locate Mills, with local fire and rescue adding additional time and resources. When the vessel was not found in the approximate area of the call, it was determined as a hoax, according to the report. Mills’ call was eventually tracked back to his VHF.

The Coast Guard reminds the public that hoax distress calls place unnecessary risk on the rescuers responding to the calls and can take time away from legitimate search-and-rescue cases, which cost the American taxpayer thousands of dollars each year. If a hoax caller is not found and tried, taxpayers pay the cost of the search. A Coast Guard C-130 aircraft costs $4,244 an hour to operate; helicopters about $4,400 an hour; and cutters about $1,550 an hour, according to the report.

To reduce the number of hoax calls this year and to optimize rescue efforts, the Coast Guard asks the public to remove radios from their boats or lock them up when not in use, teach children that unauthorized use puts others in danger, and report suspect hoaxers on the confidential Coast Guard tip line at (800) 264-5980.

— Elizabeth Ellis