Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

It's No Joke. False Distress Calls Cost All of Us

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

It's No Joke. False Distress Calls Cost All of Us

Article excerpt

Byline: Bob Conklin

For more than 200 years, the U.S. Coast Guard has responded to distress calls at sea as quickly as possible as if it were an actual call for help. But every once in a while, some of those calls are found to be false alarms, or hoax calls, sent by people who willingly mislead the Coast Guard and other search and rescue assets for various reasons.

What they don't realize though, is that a hoax call could potentially divert valuable search assets from an actual distress case, and put rescuers unnecessarily in harm's way while responding to the false call.

Hoax calls affect everyone, including people who are not boat owners or part of the maritime community. Hoax calls affect:

- The U.S. Coast Guard by placing our men and women in danger by operating ships, boats and aircraft, responding to these false distress calls;

- The American taxpayers by wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. This is money that can be allotted to homeland security and/or additional training;

- Those really in distress at sea by interfering with legitimate search-and-rescue cases.

Anyone who knowingly and willfully commits a hoax or false distress call is fleecing America. The Coast Guard is working with the Federal Communications Commission, Department of Justice and other federal, state and local agencies to aggressively prosecute hoax callers and recover costs for the federal government on behalf of all taxpayers.

The U.S. Coast Guard, as a matter of both law and policy, does not seek to recover the costs associated with search-and-rescue from the recipients of those services. While we must be mindful to employ a cost-effective response to an incident, response or distress itself must not be delayed or limited by the misplaced concern of "who is to pay the bill."

One of the exceptions to this rule is the perpetrators of false distress calls.

One penalty levied on hoax callers is reimbursement to the Coast Guard for the costs of performing the search. …

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