The U.S. Coast Guard has suspended a 10-hour search that started early Tuesday morning for four missing boaters who reported their boat sinking off Sandy Hook Bay, and are now treating the call as a possible hoax, a federal felony.
The call cost Coast Guard assets and by extension, taxpayers about $88,000.
Along with state and local agencies that included Sea Bright, Fair Haven and Rumson, the Coast Guard searched about 600 square-miles in the area of Sandy Hook, but found no evidence of the reported-missing sailboat, Courtney Lynn, or its four passengers, a release from the Coast Guard said.
“We were not able to find a sign of persons in distress or any kind of debris,” said Petty Officer Second Class Jetta Disco, who is based in the Coast Guard’s New York City battery.
Disco said a mayday call came into the Coast Guard at about 3:15 a.m. from the Courtney Lynn, a 33-foot sailboat, and it was taking on water. Within 20 minutes to a half-hour, Disco said reports came in that the vessel was about 90-percent submerged and its occupants were abandoning the sailboat and boarding a dinghy.
“That was the last communications we heard,” she said.
The Coast Guard, along with State Police and the aforementioned boroughs, initiated an extensive air and sea search that covered about 600 square-miles, Disco said. Middletown First Aid was called in for early in the morning for standby help, but was called off shortly thereafter, Lieutenant Steve Dollinger said. An earlier release from the Coast Guard said aircraft from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, a helicopter from Atlantic City and a rescue boat from Sandy Hook helped in the search efforts.
Disco said the search was called off shortly before 2 p.m. Tuesday. She did not have further details on where the Courtney Lynn was registered, or by whom.
Now, the Coast Guard is offering up a $1,000 reward for anyone with information leading to the arrest and prosecution of anyone making a fake distress call.
More from the Coast Guard website:
Making a false distress call is a federal felony with a maximum penalty of five to 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, $8,000 civil penalty and the possible reimbursement to the Coast Guard for the cost of performing the search. Coast Guard and other state and local agencies have responded to 126 suspected hoax calls in the northern New Jersey, New York City and Hudson River region since January 2010.
In addition to being a federal crime, false distress calls waste tax payer dollars, put Coast Guard and other first responders at unnecessary risk and can interfere with the Coast Guard’s ability to respond to those in actual distress at sea.
In response to this high number of calls, the Coast Guard is offering a reward of up to $1,000 for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of anyone responsible for making a false distress or hoax call to the U.S. Coast Guard in the area. Anyone with information regarding false distress calls is encouraged to anonymously contact the U.S. Coast Guard at 646-872-5774.