Coast Guard tracks down Key West hoax caller

KEY WEST, Fla. — The Coast Guard tracked down a hoax caller after multiple calls were made on VHF Channel 16 over the past few months. A local resident of Islamorada, Fla., confessed to placing multiple calls over Channel 16.

Since mid-June, the Coast Guard received calls periodically from an individual using the call sign “Ice Station Zebra.” These lengthy calls interrupted search and rescue cases and normal Coast Guard operations. Using the Rescue 21 Radio System, which is normally used for communications and to locate individuals in distress, the Coast Guard triangulated a general area where the calls originated. The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office gave the Coast Guard a suspect’s name in the area based on his previous contact with law enforcement.

The Coast Guard Investigative Service (CGIS) arrived at the suspected hoax caller’s residence and found a working VHF radio. The resident signed an agreement to stop broadcasting over hailing and distress frequencies and was informed that making additional false distress calls could subject him to formal action by the Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard would like to remind individuals that false distress calls place unnecessary risk on would-be rescuers and interfere with legitimate search and rescue cases. False calls also cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. It costs approximately $2,189 per hour to operate a Coast Guard 33-foot response boat, while a helicopter or larger cutter may cost from $13,880 to $14,500 an hour.

Under federal law, knowingly and willfully transmitting a hoax distress call is a felony. It is punishable by up to six years in prison, a $250,000 fine and restitution to the Coast Guard for all costs incurred while responding to the distress.

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