Distress call a hoax, Coast Guard says
The Coast Guard says its search for a phantom sailboat Tuesday cost taxpayers nearly $88,000.
June 15th, 2011
08:37 AM ET

Distress call a hoax, Coast Guard says

A distress call that sparked a massive search for four people in the waters off New Jersey appears to have been a hoax, the Coast Guard says.

Shortly before 4 a.m. Tuesday, someone called the Coast Guard, saying a 33-foot sailboat was nearly submerged and the four people aboard were abandoning ship and boarding a small dinghy.

The caller told the Coast Guard they did not have a handheld radio, flares or a sound-producing device, and communications were lost.

The Coast Guard said it sent a boat, two helicopters and a jet to search 600 square miles of water at a cost of nearly $88,000. Units from the New Jersey State Police and five municipalities also took part, it said.

The Coast Guard said it has responded to 126 suspected hoax calls in the northern New Jersey, New York City and Hudson River region since January 2010. It is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to a prosecution.

"This is serious," Coast Guard spokeswoman Petty Officer Jetta Disco said Wednesday. "By these people making these false distress calls, we had four assets out searching for a boat that wasn't actually in distress. What if there was a call from a vessel that actually was in distress, and all these assets are tied up? People's lives are at stake here."

Making a false distress call is a federal felony with a maximum penalty of five to 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, an $8,000 civil penalty, and the possible reimbursement to the Coast Guard for the cost of performing the search.

If nothing else, the Coast Guard makes the best of false distress calls to sharpen search-and-rescue skills and coordination with other agencies, Disco said.

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Filed under: Crime • New Jersey
soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. michaelfury


    June 15, 2011 at 8:28 am | Report abuse |
    • Frank

      TheCG is a military branch and America's maritime first responders, so they are never really sitting "idle" per say. That said, erroneous distress calls can result in launching assets to search, and each time an asset is launched there are associated costs (fuel, etc) and inherent risks.

      June 15, 2011 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Cesar The Chorizo Champ Of Chihuahua

    What isn't a hoax these days? Everything is an unnecessary joke.

    June 15, 2011 at 8:49 am | Report abuse |
  3. Van der Sloot Rising

    any girls want to go out? i know this great sea food place.

    June 15, 2011 at 9:39 am | Report abuse |
  4. banasy

    I agree, Cesar.

    WHAT kind of freaking jerks so this kind of stuff?
    It their lives are so empty that they need to do this, they need to seek professional help immediately.

    I hope this loser is found, and he is made to pay back every penny of the cost of the rescue efforts.

    June 15, 2011 at 9:57 am | Report abuse |
  5. banasy

    I meant *do*.

    June 15, 2011 at 10:01 am | Report abuse |
  6. Brian

    When they say that such operations "cost" money, are they just tallying the numbers for personnel and equipment that would have been operating anyways and allocating it to the rescue? Is it "extra" money that wouldn't have been spent had the call not come in? Are there guys sitting idle and unpaid waiting for the next call?

    June 15, 2011 at 11:43 am | Report abuse |
  7. Jo

    I hope they nail these idiot children. (Who are probably adults) what if a real call came in? These are probably the same clowns who get off using lasers on planes.

    June 15, 2011 at 12:49 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Jamie

    A bunch of wise guys up there see? Probably put out a distress call to distract the CG while they ferried 100 tons of Cocaine up the river.

    June 15, 2011 at 12:49 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Dead Man Blogging

    Why do this? Sure, it's most likely just stupid kids. Or, using the "follow the money" philosophy, suppose these were drug runners, and they wanted to take the Coast Guard patrols away from their planned landing site, and tie up the suveillance aircraft elsewhere as well?

    June 15, 2011 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Riff*Raff

    Can I just say that Jetta Disco is a wonderful name!

    126 hoax calls in 18 months is outrageous. Hopefully the reward money will help flush out the culprits. $88k per incident is a tremendous amount of money. Isn't NJ where the education budget has been decimated due to lack of state funds? Yes, I know it's Coast Guard, but state resources were used as well in the search efforts.

    June 15, 2011 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |