The U.S. Coast Guard has offered a $3000 reward for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of the man who apparently made false boater-in-distress calls near Galveston and in New Jersey.
The Coast Guard released a statement Wednesday saying the May 20 call near Galveston could be related to a June 11 call off Sandy Hook N.J.
The Coast Guard received a VHF radio transmission May 20 from the captain of a fishing vessel reporting the boat was taking on water and that six people were preparing to enter an orange life raft. The poor transmission left watch standers unable to determine whether the name of the vessel was Scallywag or Skylark.
On June 11 a caller reported an explosion on the yacht Blind Date off Sandy Hook and that 21 people were aboard. Both calls prompted extensive searches but the Coast Guard found no signs of a boat debris or water sheen which would be typical of sinking vessels.
The Coast Guard released five points of similarities on both calls:
1. The calls seemed to come from land. In the Sandy Hook case direction-finding equipment revealed the call came from the north shore of Staten Island N.Y. over New Jersey to near the George Washington Bridge.
2. The caller contacted a Coast Guard Vessel Traffic Service in both cases where typically someone in distress would use Channel 16 the known emergency radio frequency.
3. The caller also used the same terminology reporting the boat was taking on water rather than sinking. The caller used the word “souls” to describe people aboard and “beacon” to describe a supposed automatic signaling device on the life rafts.
4. The caller gave specific locations of the boats in distress yet seemed unfamiliar with the area. The captain used references to the location that others typically wouldn’t use.
5. The voice and manner of speaking were similar.
“Within the first 24 hours of the response in Sector Houston Galveston we became suspicious that this call was a hoax because of a few oddities” said Capt. Ed Cubanski chief of the Eighth Coast Guard District incident management branch in New Orleans.
The Galveston-area call was received over Channel 11 and the captain easily switched to Channel 16. There also was no debris found Cubanski said.
The Coast Guard released computer audio files of the distress recording. It also released five instances of prosecution of hoax calls in which defendants received both probation and prison time and were ordered to pay from $56459 to $194587 in restitution.
A conviction of making a false distress call carries penalties of up to six years in prison and up to a $250000 fine in addition to restitution.
The Coast Guard offered a $3000 reward to information leading to the arrest and prosecution of the hoax caller and asked anyone with knowledge of the false distress calls to phone Coast Guard Investigative Services at 646-872-5774 or 212-668-7048.