Coast Guard responds to alleged fake distress calls on Columbia River

By Patty Hastings, Columbian breaking news reporter

Published:

Updated: July 31, 2013, 10:58 PM

 

The Coast Guard has responded to six apparently fake distress calls near Portland this summer.

The latest call came in Sunday and tied up a 25-foot response boat from Portland and a Coast Guard Auxiliary boat for two hours, costing taxpayers an estimated $8,000.

Around 6:30 p.m. Sunday, the Coast Guard crews heard a call of “Help. Mayday” come over the radio, and 20 minutes later, they heard “My boat is sinking.” They traced the call to the Hayden Island area. Nobody replied to the Coast Guard’s call-outs or urgent marine information broadcasts. The crews searched for two hours but found no signs of distress.

The Coast Guard received five similar calls earlier in the summer in the Portland area.

Fake calls drain resources and put personnel at risk, the agency said in a news release.

Making a false distress call is a federal felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, $8,000 civil penalty and the potential reimbursement to the Coast Guard for performing the search.

Boaters are reminded that they’re responsible for anything they or their passengers might do with emergency equipment, including a marine VHF radio.

Passengers, especially children, may not understand the consequences of playing on the radio and making false distress.

Anyone with information regarding false distress calls is encouraged to call the U.S. Coast Guard at 206-220-7308.

The agency offers up to a $1,000 reward that leads to the arrest of anyone responsible for the fake distress calls.