Coast Guard seeks public’s help in identifying hoax caller – Audio available

d13SEATTLE — The U.S. Coast Guard is seeking the public’s help in identifying a hoax caller that made multiple false distress calls earlier this month in the Puget Sound area.

Coast Guard Vessel Traffic Service Puget Sound in Seattle received a Mayday call via VHF-FM radio channel 14 around 11 p.m., May 31, reporting that five people were donning life jackets and abandoning the fishing vessel Bristol Maid, reported to be on fire in Lilliwaup Bay, Hood Canal. No other communications were received.

First call

Watchstanders at Coast Guard Sector Puget Sound in Seattle issued an Urgent Marine Information Broadcast, but did not receive any response.

Two Coast Guard MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crews from Coast Guard Air Station Port Angeles, a Coast Guard 45-foot Response Boat — Medium crew from Coast Guard Station Seattle, and a Mason County Sheriff’s Office boatcrew completed multiple searches of the area, but found no signs of distress. The cost of the search totaled approximately $138,000.

The search was suspended five hours after the initial call because no signs of distress were found, no additional information was provided and no missing persons were reported to the Coast Guard or local authorities.

Watchstanders at VTS Puget Sound received a similar call via VHF-FM radio channel 14 around 9 p.m. the following evening, reporting that two adults and a child were donning life jackets and abandoning a vessel taking on water between Hoodsport and Lilliwaup Bay on Hood Canal. The reporting source initially referred to his vessel as Bristol Maid, the same vessel reported to be in distress the previous night, but later changed the name to Aleutian Beauty. No other communications were received.

Second call

A Coast Guard Dolphin helicopter crew, Coast Guard RB-M crew, Mason County Sheriff’s Office boatcrew and tribal fisheries boatcrew searched for more than three hours without finding any signs of distress. The cost of the search totaled approximately $71,059.

Officials believe the same caller placed a third false call to the Coast Guard around 10 p.m. on June 2.

Third call

“The Coast Guard takes every distress call seriously,” said Capt. Michael W. Raymond, commander of Coast Guard Sector Puget Sound. “False distress calls tie up valuable search assets and put our crews at risk. They impede our ability to respond to real cases of distress where lives may be in genuine peril.”

Making a false distress call is a federal felony with a maximum penalty of up to 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, a $5,000 civil penalty and possible reimbursement to the Coast Guard for the cost of performing the search.

Boaters are reminded that they are responsible for the safety and actions of their passengers and are encouraged to educate them about the proper use of emergency equipment including a marine VHF radio. Passengers, especially children, may not understand the consequences of playing on the radio and reporting a false distress.

The Coast Guard Investigative Service is asking the public’s help in identifying the person or people responsible for making these false distress calls to the U.S. Coast Guard. Anyone with information regarding false distress calls is encouraged to contact the Coast Guard 13th District Command Center at 206-220-7003.

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