Coast Guard experiences spike in suspected hoax distress cases in N.C., Va.

PORTSMOUTH, Va. – Coast Guard Command Centers in North Carolina and Virginia are dealing with an abundance of fake distress calls.

In a press release the Coast Guard said that they saw a spike in hoax distress calls in November.

Coast Guard watchstanders in both Hampton Roads and Wilmington, North Carolina both said that they typically notice a spike in the amount of traffic on VHF-FM channel 16 during the late fall, as well as an increase in suspected false distress cases reported on the channel.

“False distress calls incur significant cost to the public, divert limited resources to respond, and place both responders and potentially other mariners at risk,” said Capt. Bion Stewart, commander, Sector North Carolina. “We continue to encourage mariners to use VHF radios to communicate with the Coast Guard and other mariners, but it is imperative that this critical, potentially life-saving tool be used appropriately and responsibly for the safety of all mariners.”

The Coast Guard wants to stress that even if kids are the ones making these calls, parents will ultimately be responsible. Hoax distress calls to the Coast Guard are considered a Class D felony and can incur more than $250,000 in fines and 10 years imprisonment, plus the cost of the search, said the Coast Guard.

“We don’t take hoax distress lightly,” said Capt. Richard Wester, commander, Sector Hampton Roads. “We, along with our partner agencies, will pursue the prosecution of suspects to the fullest extent of the law. A Newport News man was convicted of making a false distress call to our command center in June 2016 and now faces potential prison time. He is scheduled to be sentenced in February.”

The Coast Guard does understand there can be accidental transmission, but wants people to know when the Coast Guard radios back, that they need to respond for clarification.

Anyone with information regarding a hoax call made to the Coast Guard is encouraged to contact the Coast Guard Investigative Service through the 5th District Command Center at 757-398-6390.