Coast Guard warns against false distress calls after suspected hoax

Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter file photo by Auxiliarist Joseph Feldman.

Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter file photo by Auxiliarist Joseph Feldman.

BOSTON — The Coast Guard suspended its search Thursday for a vessel and crew reportedly taking on water in the vicinity of Sprucehead, Maine, after multiple searches yielded no findings or correlating information.

At approximately 6:30 a.m., Coast Guard Sector Northern New England watchstanders received a mayday transmission through VHF radio channel 16 – the internationally recognized hailing and distress frequency – from the crew of a 42-foot fishing vessel stating the boat was taking on water. Over several minutes the caller described the vessel and crew’s situation in detail, stating that the rudder was broken and the vessel’s dewatering pumps could not keep up with flooding.

Communication then ceased as Coast Guard rescue crews from Rockland and Cape Cod, Massachusetts, launched to search for the vessel and potential survivors.

“Our Coast Guard rescue crews thrive on taking risks for the sake of helping others in distress on the water,” said Capt. Brian LeFebvre, commanding officer of Coast Guard Sector Northern New England. “Hoax distress calls – like the one we received this morning – unnecessarily put our rescue crews at risk, drain resources, and may limit our ability to respond to actual emergencies. Today’s hoax is particularly offensive given the loss of 4 fishermen aboard the EMMY ROSE just last week. We will use all available resources to identify and hold the responsible individual
accountable.”

The Coast Guard pursues all distress calls, and when dealing with hoax cases, crews will search until the nature and legitimacy of the calls are resolved. Willfully communicating a false distress message to the Coast Guard is a felony offense under federal law and punishable by up to six years in prison, a $250,000 fine, a $10,000 civil penalty and reimbursement to agencies for all costs incurred in responding to the false distress message.

The search covered approximately 62 square nautical miles and included Coast Guard and state responders.

The following resources searched:

  • A 47-foot Motor Lifeboat from Coast Guard Station Rockland
  • An MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter from Air Station Cape Cod
  • Maine Marine Patrol

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