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Coast Guard warns against false distress calls after suspected hoax near Sprucehead, Maine

by U.S. Coast Guard 1st District Northeast 5 Dec 2020 13:11 PST
Coast Guard Cutter Reliance patrols the Western Caribbean in support of the Joint Interagency Task Force - South October 2014 © U.S. Coast Guard / Petty Officer 3rd Class Clinton McDonald

The Coast Guard suspended its search Thursday at 11:15 a.m. for a vessel and crew reportedly taking on water in the vicinity of Sprucehead, Maine, after multiple searches yielded no findings or correlating information.

At approximately 6:30 a.m., Coast Guard Sector Northern New England watchstanders received a mayday transmission through VHF radio channel 16 - the internationally recognized hailing and distress frequency - from the crew of a 42-foot fishing vessel stating the boat was taking on water. Over several minutes the caller described the vessel and crew's situation in detail, stating that the rudder was broken and the vessel's dewatering pumps could not keep up with flooding.

Communication then ceased as Coast Guard rescue crews from Rockland and Cape Cod, Massachusetts, launched to search for the vessel and potential survivors.

"Our Coast Guard rescue crews thrive on taking risks for the sake of helping others in distress on the water," said Capt. Brian LeFebvre, commanding officer of Coast Guard Sector Northern New England. "Hoax distress calls - like the one we received this morning - unnecessarily put our rescue crews at risk, drain resources, and may limit our ability to respond to actual emergencies. Today's hoax is particularly offensive given the loss of four fishermen aboard the EMMY ROSE just last week. We will use all available resources to identify and hold the responsible individual accountable."

The Coast Guard pursues all distress calls, and when dealing with hoax cases, crews will search until the nature and legitimacy of the calls are resolved. Willfully communicating a false distress message to the Coast Guard is a felony offense under federal law and punishable by up to six years in prison, a $250,000 fine, a $10,000 civil penalty and reimbursement to agencies for all costs incurred in responding to the false distress message.

The search covered approximately 62 square nautical miles and included Coast Guard and state responders.

The following resources searched:

  • A 47-foot Motor Lifeboat from Coast Guard Station Rockland
  • An MH-60 Jayhawk from Air Station Cape Cod
  • Maine Marine Patrol
Listen and download the audio here.

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