False maritime distress calls affect USCG, taxpayers, and mariners in distress

Lady JusticeSEATTLE – John W. Graham, 37, of Seattle, was indicted, Wednesday, by a federal grand jury for three counts of making false statements related to phony reports of a vessel in distress.

For more than 220 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: 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 we are 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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