You’ll Pay Big For A Hoax Distress Call

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Coast Guard Cutter Vigorous searching for Cheeki Rafiki crewWhile flying over Lake Erie near Cleveland, a man claimed he spotted a distress flare coming up from a boat and alerted authorities.

A 140-foot U.S. Coast Guard cutter, three smaller rescue boaters, a rescue helicopter, and a Canadian C-130 Hercules airplane searched for 21 hours without success. The boater in distress was never found.

That’s because there never was a boater in distress.

Danik Shiv Kumar pleaded guilty to making the false distress call in 2012 and it cost him big time. A federal judge sentenced him to three months in prison and ordered him to pay restitution to the tune of $489,000–$277,000 to the U.S. Coast Guard and $212,000 to the Canadian Armed Forces.

As Lt. Davey Connor wrote Thursday in the Coast Guard Compass, the official blog of the U.S. Coast Guard, hoaxes are no joke. It’s a timely message considering it’s National Boating Safety Week and Memorial Day weekend is upon us.

“The Coast Guard, much like local fire departments, is often the victim of false distress calls or hoaxes as they are known in the profession,” said Capt. Peter F. Martin, chief of the USCG Office of Search and Rescue.Confirming that hoax distress calls are no joking matter, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit three weeks ago upheld the restitution payment of nearly $500,000.

“Individuals who perpetrate these crimes put our first responders at unnecessary risk and potentially deny precious rescue resources to those actually in need. At a minimum, response to hoax calls expends scarce public resources, which ultimately come at the expense of taxpayers. The Federal government will continue to prosecute those who commit these crimes and encourage the public to assist our efforts in combating this senseless public safety threat.”

Hoax distress calls are more common than you might think.

Just last week, the Coast Guard in Jacksonville spent two hours searching for a boat in distress after a caller said “mayday, mayday, mayday” and hung up.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported that two hours after rescue crews responded someone from a Flagler Beach business called to report that someone had witnessed another employee make the hoax distress call, which is a felony.

“Want to save lives?” Connor asked in his blog. “Here are two things you can do that will make a big difference.”


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