A 47-foot boat is seen at the United States Coast Guard station in Rockland. Credit: Ashley L. Conti / BDN

A Rockland man will not serve any additional jail time for making a fake distress call last year but he must repay the Coast Guard nearly $20,000 for the resources the agency spent on the search the call spurred.

Nathan Libby, 32, pleaded guilty to making the fake distress call earlier this year. Libby was sentenced Wednesday afternoon during a virtual hearing in federal court. Libby was arrested in January and held at the Cumberland County Jail for four days before being released on bail.

Federal Judge Nancy Torresen ordered Libby to pay $17,500 in restitution to the U.S. Coast Guard and placed him on supervised release for three years. The sentence Torresen imposed considered Libby’s jail time already served and included no additional time.

U.S. Assistant Attorney Daniel Perry asked Torresen to sentence Libby to a period of six months in jail to emphasize that making a face distress call is a serious offense. “God forbid there had been another emergency at the same time, resources would have been stretched,” Perry said.

Torresen agreed that the offense was severe. However, she said one reason for not sentencing Libby to any new jail time is so he can focus on finding steady work to pay his restitution.

While Torresen did not specify how much the search cost in total, she said the $17,500 Libby must repay represents a fraction of the cost.

“The amount of money it costs to pay for these rescue missions is really staggering,” Torresen said Wednesday. “The government really has done you a huge favor by not insisting that you have to pay back the whole amount.”

The incident began around 6:30 a.m. on Dec. 3, 2020, when the Coast Guard received a distress call claiming a boat was taking on water and the crew was preparing to jump ship. But, after several hours of searching, the Coast Guard called off the search, stating they suspected the call to be a hoax after finding no indication of anyone being missing or in distress in the area.

In a recording of the call released at the time of the search, a man was heard calling for help, but did not identify himself or the name of the vessel. Stating the name of the vessel is a common practice among fishermen when issuing a mayday.

“Mayday. Mayday. We lost our rudder. And we’re taking on water fast. We don’t have enough pumps to keep up with it,” the unidentified man said in the recording.

The caller indicated that he was trying to get the vessel to Atwood’s Lobster Co. in Spruce Head.

After searching the area around Atwood’s Lobster Co., a Maine Marine Patrol officer went to the neighboring Spruce Head Fishermans Co-op and made contact with Libby, who worked at the co-op, according to court documents.

While at the co-op, the officer spoke to another co-op employee and played the recording of the call. The employee said the man on the call sounded like Libby. The officer also discovered the co-op had a VHF radio dialed into the same channel on which the distress call was made.

Both Perry and Libby’s attorney said that Libby was struggling with substance use disorder at the time he committed the crime. Libby said he has been sober for the past eight months.

Clarification: Nathan Libby will not serve any additional time in jail under the sentence imposed by a federal judge Wednesday. He was held in jail after his arrest earlier this year for four days before being released on bail.