Coast Guard has increased reward for New Jersey hoax caller

US Coast Guard helicopters
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The US Coast Guard has increased the reward to $3,000 for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of the person responsible for making a false distress call to the Coast Guard Monday, reporting a vessel explosion and sinking east of Sandy Hook, N.J.

Coast Guard Vessel Traffic Service New York received a distress call at approximately 4:20 p.m., Monday, reportedly from the yacht Blind Date, stating the vessel suffered an explosion, seven people were injured and all 21 people reportedly aboard the yacht had abandoned ship into liferafts. A later call to the Coast Guard reported that three people aboard the boat had died, and that several people had 2nd- and 3rd-degree burns, and that people aboard were abandoning ship into liferafts.

Here is the CBS report



Making a false distress call is a federal felony with a maximum penalty of five to 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and reimbursement to the Coast Guard for the cost of performing the search. Coast Guard and other state and local agencies responded to more than 60 suspected hoax calls in the northern New Jersey, New York City and Hudson River region in 2011.

In addition to being a federal crime, false distress calls waste tax payer dollars, put Coast Guard and other first responders at unnecessary risk and can interfere with the Coast Guard’s ability to respond to actual distress at sea.

'More than 200 first responders assembled mass casualty receptions areas in Newark, and Coast Guard Station Sandy Hook, N.J., preparing to receive the reported injured passengers,' said Cmdr. Kenneth Pierro, of Coast Guard Sector New York.

Monday’s Coast Guard search east of Sandy Hook included two Coast Guard boat crews and four Coast Guard helicopter crews, who searched approximately 638 square nautical miles. Response units from New York City Police Department, Fire Department of New York City, New Jersey State Police and Nassau County Police Department also conducted searches in the area.

The hoaxster behind two calls alerting the US Coast Guard of a motor yacht exploding off New Jersey calmly told authorities on Monday that three of his fellow passengers had died, the boat was taking on water and the water level on the bridge was about three feet high


'I'm gonna stay by the radio for as long as I can before I have to go overboard,' the male voice said according to an audio recording the Coast Guard released on Tuesday.

'We have three deceased, nine injured,' the hoaxer said. 'We've had an explosion on board, that's why we're taking on water.'

The caller even told the Coast that life rafts carrying survivors were equipped with beacons to make themselves more visible to rescuers.

Cast Guard Deputy Commander Gregory Hitchen said at a news conference the hoax caller gave authorities a 'specific blow-by-blow' on how the boat was filling up with water.

'Many hoax calls, you can tell immediately they're from children,' he said. 'This one was somewhat calm but was giving a convincing story as to what the nature of his emergency was.'

The caller also claimed the vessel sank but everyone had made it to life rafts. But Coast Guard crews and New York City police helicopters found no sign of any people or any distress in the water, and after several hours of searching it became increasingly clear there was no explosion.

'When they arrived on scene, helicopters looking down, they would have seen life rafts,' Hitchen said. 'And they would've seen smoke.'

The caller also said the group didn't have a handheld radio or flares in the dinghy to communicate with rescuers.

At about 10 p.m., the Coast Guard made the decision to call off the search.

The two calls came in on a radio positioned somewhere in New Jersey or southern New York, possibly Staten Island, the Coast Guard said. They came in on a Coast Guard channel that is not typically used for emergencies.

Hitchen said the hoax put the public at risk by taking Coast Guard personnel away from a separate emergency call that came in during the four-hour-long search. The Coast Guard received a report of a person in the water off Bayonne, N.J., in the separate call but did not find anyone in distress.

Making a false distress call is a federal felony, with a maximum penalty of five to 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and reimbursement to the Coast Guard for the cost of performing the search. The Coast Guard and other state and local agencies responded to more than 60 suspected hoax calls last year in the northern New Jersey, New York City and Hudson River region.

Monday's distress call and search came nearly a year after a similar situation unfolded near Sandy Hook.

A call on an emergency radio channel was received in the early morning hours of June 14, 2011, with the caller claiming a 33-foot sailboat named Courtney Lynn was taking on water. Less than an hour later, another call came in claiming the boat was 90 percent submerged, and the four boaters were transferring to a small gray dinghy.



Anyone with information regarding false distress calls is encouraged to anonymously contact the U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service at 646-872-5774 or 212-668-7048