US Hoaxes point to the general problem of hoax distress calls
by Sail-World Cruising round-up on 1 Jul 2012
Two recent hoax distress calls in the USA, in New Jersey and Tampa, costing major disruption and hundreds of thousands of dollars, have drawn attention to the issue that is real and ongoing for rescue services, no matter in what country they occur.
Fully prepared and waiting for survivors who never existed .. .
Lt Commander Mia Dutcher, who supervises search and rescue missions in Tampa, maintains that, in the Tampa Bay area alone, they field 600-700 hoax calls a year.
When the Coast Guard responded to reports of a yacht explosion off the coast of New Jersey, the urgency appeared real, and the ensuing search was massive.
In a calm voice, the caller described the sinking vessel and the causalities on board.
But after an exhausting five-hour search and at a cost of more than $300,000, the Coast Guard determined the distress call was bogus.
Some hoax calls, however, are obvious, says Dutcher. 'The one case where we had a child over the radio I could hear the adult in the background telling them what to say, but we could not locate that person.'
And in New Jersey as well as Tampa, they are still looking for the person who pulled off the latest hoax.
If they do find him, Coast Guard authorities say he could spend many years on land...facing up to six years in prison.
Investigators are checking the possibility that the calls came from the same man, Coast Guard Capt. Gregory Hitchen said. A voice expert has been analyzing the calls.
Each vessel was 'taking on water,' not sinking. The people on board were described as 'souls,' and in each case, the caller referred to an automatic signaling 'beacon' in orange life rafts.
In New Jersey, a reported June 11 explosion aboard the super-yacht Blind Date off Sandy Hook prompted a massive effort by emergency responders that cost more than $335,000, authorities said. The caller said 21 people were aboard, of whom three had died and nine were injured.
In Texas, another major rescue effort to locate the six people from a sinking fishing boat May 20 near Galveston also cost thousands of dollars. A more precise cost estimate has not been determined.
In both incidents, no evidence was found the vessels existed.
The Mayday calls may be examples of a practice known as 'swatting,' in which pranksters make hoax calls to authorities, then brag about them on blogs, the FBI said.
The calls for help, it was later determined, seemed to originate from land, investigators said, and were made to the Coast Guard Vessel Traffic Service rather than to the service in general, which would be more natural, or to the known emergency frequency, VHF Channel 16.
The caller provided 'very specific locations of distress and distances, while at the same time exhibiting throughout the calls unfamiliarity with the area and/or using references to location that a boat captain typically wouldn't use,' officials said in the statement.
However, authorities are as yet no closer to identifying the culprit. The Coast Guard is seeking the public's help in the investigation and has offered a $3,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and prosecution. Following is the actual voice recording (Can you assist?):
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