Hoax calls costly to Coast Guard

A Coast Guard motor lifeboat from Fort Macon patrols near Morehead City.

A Coast Guard motor lifeboat from Fort Macon patrols near Morehead City.

Havelock News file photo
Published: Friday, August 15, 2014 at 12:38 PM.

So far this year the Coast Guard in North Carolina has responded to seven hoax mayday calls, more than three times the number statewide from all of 2013, an official said last week.

That trend and the 18-month prison sentence handed down this week to a Carteret County man who faked a distress call in October 2013 has prompted Coast Guard officials to warn the public that faking a distress call is a federal offense with that puts lives at risk.

“A search when no one is in distress puts an undue risk on the lives of first responders,” Coast Guard Lt. Lane Munroe, chief of the Sector N.C. Command Center in Wilmington, said Friday.

In the recent case of Homer Lewis Blackburn, 26, of Atlantic Beach, U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Stephen Metruck said in a letter to the judge concerning Blackburn’s sentencing, that not only are Coast Guard members at risk from hoax calls, but false mayday calls can put the public in danger.

In 1990, a father and son were at sea when their genuine distress call was coincidentally followed a minute later by a hoax call in which the caller said in a sarcastic tone, “SOS, I’m sinking,” Metruck said.

“The receipt of the second call in such close proximity to the first resulted in the watchstander determining the calls were related and that both were part of a hoax,” Metruck wrote.

As a result, no rescuers were sent out and William Hokanson, 44, and his son William Jr., 19, lost their lives March 25, 1990, off the coast of Massachusetts.

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