Hoax call disgruntles U.S. Coast Guard

Posted May 08, 2009, at 10:35 p.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — A two-day search sparked by a hoax mayday distress call cost the United States Coast Guard thousands of dollars and kept a 25-foot response boat and a Falcon jet busy for nothing, said a Coast Guard official.

“I don’t think people fully understand the ramifications,” said Curtis Barthel, the commanding officer at Coast Guard Station Rockland. “We at the Coast Guard have to treat every mayday as if it’s an actual mayday.”

The call came in at 4:42 p.m. Thursday, he said. An unidentified person said, “Mayday, mayday, mayday,” and the Coast Guard’s search and rescue computer narrowed the search area to Rockport Harbor, Rockland Harbor and across to Vinalhaven Island.

Crews searched the ocean until dark and then resumed at first light Friday.

“This morning we sent the boat out, flew the aircraft, then went back and listened to the [distress call] tape,” Barthel said. “There was not that tone of distress.”

The Coast Guard had searched the area and had good coverage, but with no further details from the call and no reports of lost or overdue vessels, they abandoned the hunt, Barthel said.

He’s concerned by more than the financial costs of these hoax mayday calls.

“I’m putting my boat in a location where I’m limiting my search and rescue capabilities in another location,” Barthel said.

While it’s rare to find the person who made a hoax call, the fines would be steep, he said.

“We just don’t have the direction-finding equipment currently to do that,” he said. “I do want to catch somebody.”

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