Coast Guard command centers in North Carolina and Virginia experienced an increase in suspected hoax distress calls in November.
Watchstanders at Coast Guard Sector North Carolina in Wilmington and Sector Hampton Roads in Portsmouth typically notice a spike in the amount of traffic on VHF-FM channel 16 during the late fall, as well as an increase in suspected false distress cases reported on the channel.
“False distress calls incur significant cost to the public, divert limited resources to respond, and place both responders and potentially other mariners at risk,” said Capt. Bion Stewart, commander, Sector North Carolina. “We continue to encourage mariners to use VHF radios to communicate with the Coast Guard and other mariners, but it is imperative that this critical, potentially life-saving tool be used appropriately and responsibly for the safety of all mariners.”
The public should be aware that if children are found to be playing on the radio, the parents are ultimately accountable.
Hoax distress calls to the Coast Guard are considered a Class D felony and can incur more than $250,000 in fines and 10 years imprisonment, plus the cost of the search.
“We don’t take hoax distress lightly,” said Capt. Richard Wester, commander, Sector Hampton Roads. “We, along with our partner agencies, will pursue the prosecution of suspects to the fullest extent of the law. A Newport News man was convicted of making a false distress call to our command center in June 2016 and now faces potential prison time. He is scheduled to be sentenced in February.”
The Coast Guard urges the public to respond to Coast Guard callouts after accidental transmissions. Unintended communications to the Coast Guard are not prosecuted, but require clarification.
Anyone with information regarding a hoax call made to the Coast Guard is encouraged to contact the Coast Guard Investigative Service through the 5th District Command Center at 757-398-6390.
For additional information about suspected hoax distress calls at Sector North Carolina, please contact Chief Petty Officer Jeremy Thomas at 910-772-2216.
For additional information about suspected hoax distress calls at Sector Hampton Roads, please contact Lt. j.g. Stasia Ellis at 757-638-6641.