PORTLAND, Maine — The Coast Guard has targeted the Lincolnville area as the origin of three distress calls made last week, as well as at least 12 other calls over the past three years authorities suspect were hoaxes.
Three mayday calls made from the area April 23-25 to Coast Guard Sector Northern New England in Portland offered no position or nature of the distress, according to Coast Guard Lt. Nick Barrow, supervisor of the search-and-rescue command center in Portland.
At least 12 other calls over the last three years were tracked by “lines of bearing” from towers in Rockland and Swans Island to the same area, and Coast Guard investigators believe they were made by the same man, Barrow said Thursday.
“It’s the MO [modus operandi] of the call itself, the amount of times he says ‘mayday,’ and the way in which he says it — we have voice correlation between those calls,” Barrow said.
Most of the calls occur around the same time of day, between 3 and 4:30 p.m., and mostly on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday the third week of the month.
The calls made last week were the first received since August 2012.
“We thought he may have stopped or moved on, but it seems he may be back [and] re-engaging in this activity,” Barrow said.
Most of the calls resulted in boats and aircraft — planes or helicopters based in Cape Cod, Mass. — being launched to search for a boat in distress.
In the 14 cases, more than $188,000 in resources and 50 hours in search time were spent, Barrow said. In addition, he said, false distress calls unnecessarily put lives at risk and desensitize search-and-rescue personnel.
The Coast Guard received 18 uncorrelated distress calls in 2012 from New Jersey to Canada, with a portion of those suspected hoaxes, he said.
Barrow would not discuss details of the investigation other than to say that no suspects have been identified. The Coast Guard seeks help from the public in identifying the man.
“It’s a pretty small area [so] we’re hoping that someone out there may recognize the voice, or have heard someone talking about this case,” he said.
A reward of up to $1,000 is offered in any such case for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of a person involved in a hoax call.
Under federal law, knowingly and willfully transmitting a hoax distress call is a felony 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 call, according to a release from the Coast Guard.
Anyone with information about the caller is asked to call the Coast Guard Investigative Service in Portland at 780-3087.