Coast Guard Response to False Distress Call Cost Everyone

MILWAUKEE – During the month of June, Coast Guard Sector Lake Michigan units have responded to several calls that were heard on VHF channel 16 by people claiming to be in distress on the water.

On June 1, the Coast Guard responded to a radio call made by a child. The subsequent hour and a half search by a 25-foot small boat from Coast Guard Station Milwaukee and a HH-65 helicopter from Coast Guard Air Facility Waukegan for a supposed mariner in distress cost taxpayers an estimated $14,340.

For more than 210 years, the U.S. Coast Guard has responded to distress calls at sea and in local waterways. Usually the callers are truly in distress. But some of those calls are suspected or found to be false distress calls or hoaxes.

This causes concern because hoax calls hurt in the following ways: The Coast Guard by placing our people in danger by operating ships, boats and aircraft, responding to these false distress calls; the taxpayer by wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars annually; and those truly in distress by interfering with legitimate search-and-rescue cases.

It is a federal felony for anyone to knowingly and willfully communicates a false distress message to the Coast Guard or causes the Coast Guard to attempt to save lives and property when no help is needed. Penalties include up to six years in prison, $250,000 fine, $5,000 civil penalty, and possible reimbursement to the Coast Guard for costs of the search.

The Coast Guard must remain vigilant and take all distress calls seriously. The maritime environment is too dangerous to do otherwise. The perpetrator of a hoax call is fleecing America and the Coast Guard is working with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Department of Justice to prosecute and recover costs for the federal government on behalf of the taxpayer.

If you hear a hoax, or you have information that might lead to the perpetrator of a hoax, call the nearest U.S. Coast Guard unit or contact the FCC.

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