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Yacht distress hoaxer diverts coastguard from real incident

by Sail-World Cruising round-up on 10 Jul 2011
RNLI Eastbourne at work - this time it was the right time wrong place because of hoax call - photo by Bob Jeffrey SW
Once again UK emergency services have been hindered because of the irresponsible acts, this time by a 12-year-old child. It is less than a year since the coastguard in Britain warned that there were too many incidents causing interruption to radio reception on Channel 16. Now a hoax distress call which took the time of a lifeboat crew could have cost lives during emergency services response to an air crash.

A Sussex lifeboat crew has said they spent three-and-a-half hours at sea searching for a Spanish yacht reportedly in trouble this week.

The crew was using the same radio frequency as those dealing with the Shoreham air crash at the same time causing disruption to communications.

The hoax call was traced to a Spanish student by coastguards and police.

Solent coastguards who had deployed the Eastbourne lifeboat were also co-ordinating Shoreham lifeboat and Shoreham coastguard rescue teams after the air crash, in which part of one of the planes landed on the beach.

Mark Sawyer, coxswain of the Eastbourne lifeboat said: 'We were working on the same frequencies so there were communication problems and we were 'bleeding' over each other. It did cause problems.'

The 12-year-old ran up a £20,000 emergency services bill, making the call at the same time as the fatal Shoreham air crash.

Sawyer described the incident. 'We got a call from Dover Coastguard that a 30-metre yacht was anchored and had suffered mechanical failure. The caller was not making much sense and was speaking Spanish and a translator was called in. He described seeing Beachy Head and Sovereign Tower. He said he had left Barcelona a few days earlier.'

But when the crew were dispatched to the area they could not find the yacht, so a message was sent to all boats in the area and nearby fishing vessels were questioned.

It caused coastguard lines to become jammed and meant the crew who headed to the yacht could not attend the crash.

Yesterday the boy, a pupil at the Twin English Centre in St Anne’s Road, Eastbourne, was visited by Sussex Police.

The crew of the Eastbourne lifeboat has also warned that responding to hoax calls at any time could cost lives if the lifeboat is needed for a real emergency elsewhere.

Bob Jeffrey, a volunteer with the RNLI, said: 'A member of the public could have lost their life because we were in the wrong place.'

The RNLI relies on donations to fund the lifeboat service and the fuel alone for the call-out cost £350.

'Disruption to the station is a major problem. The coastguards and the police will follow it [the hoax call] up, and as in this case the people were identified and they will be dealt with by the police,' he said.

In the real incident, a 63-year-old pilot was killed when his light aircraft collided with another plane in the air and crashed near Shoreham Airport on Monday.

See last year's http://www.sail-world.com/index_d.cfm?nid=76113!Sail-World_Report on other incidents which hinder emergency services
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