After Sandy Coast Guard investigating hoax call

A man surveys the damage after Hurricane Sandy
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With the US Coast Guard - and all other emergency services - in the northeastern states of America still being under pressure after devastating Hurricane Sandy passed through last week, it is grim to note that they are investigating a possible hoax mayday call after distress calls were made on VHF-FM Channel 16 Thursday near Narragansett Bay, R.I.

Watchstanders at Coast Guard Sector Southeastern New England, in Woods Hole, Mass., received a mayday call Thursday over VHF- Channel 16 with no position or nature of distress.

Using the Rescue 21 Radio System, watchstanders were able to determine the location of the mayday call to Mount Hope Bay and the Providence River, R.I., area.

A Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew immediately launched an initial search for the source of the call and conducted a second search Friday morning with no correlating signs of distress.

'By policy, the Coast Guard is required to search for every distress call regardless of the assumed source,' said Lt. Bryan Swintek, command center chief, Sector Southeastern New England. 'Calls like one needlessly put an unnecessary strain on our crews and divert our attention from mariners who are actually in distress.'

Hoax calls are particularly frustrating cases for both the maritime emergency responder and the taxpayers, as they unnecessarily put first responders in danger, waste valuable operational hours and come at a heavy cost.

In the last two years there have been 23 hoax calls with a male voice off the Warwick area accounting for more than 100 hours of search time by Coast and local responders and costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

'This case is especial frustrating because the helicopters and crews that were used are the same that are providing vital support to the port of New York and the communities affected by Hurricane Sandy across the Eastern Seaboard,' said, Capt. Verne Gifford, commander, Sector Southeastern New England.

Under federal law, knowingly and willfully transmitting a hoax distress call is a felony. It is punishable by up to six years in prison, a $250,000 fine and restitution to the Coast Guard for all costs incurred while responding to the distress.