Coast Guard Sector Columbia River crews responded to three suspected hoax distress calls near Clatskanie, Ore., and Portland, Ore.,Sunday. Sector Columbia River launched an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew from Air Station Astoria and a 25-foot response boat crew from Station Portland in response to the calls, searching for more than four hours and costing taxpayers an estimated $8,000.
Sector Columbia River received a call stating "Need help," on VHF Channel 16, at approximately 4 p.m., but received no replies to subsequent callouts. The call was traced to an area between Puget Island, Wash., and Wallace Island, Ore., on the Columbia River, approximately five miles west of Clatskanie. Sector Columbia River issued an Urgent Marine Information Broadcast to notify mariners in the area and launched an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew from Air Station Astoria. The aircrew searched the area for approximately two hours without finding any sign of distress.
Sector Columbia River received a VHF Channel 16 call "Help, Mayday," at approximately 6:30 p.m., and another "My boat is sinking," at approximately 6:50 p.m. Both calls were traced to the vicinity of Hayden Island near Portland. In both cases, Sector Columbia River received no reply to callouts and issued UMIBs. A 25-foot response boat crew from Station Portland and a Coast Guard Auxiliary boat searched the area for approximately two hours with no sign of distress.
Sector Columbia River responded to five similar calls earlier this summer. Click here for details surrounding those calls.
When the Coast Guard dispatches vessels and aircraft in cases of false distress, it not only drains limited resources, but needlessly puts our personnel at risk. Making a false distress call is a federal felony with a maximum penalty of five to 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, $8,000 civil penalty and the possible reimbursement to the Coast Guard for the cost of performing the search.
Boaters are reminded that they are responsible for the safety and actions of their passengers and are encouraged to educate them about the proper use of emergency equipment including a marine VHF radio. Oftentimes passengers, especially children, may not understand the consequences of playing on the radio and reporting false distress.
In response to the high number of calls, the Coast Guard offers a reward of up to $1,000 for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of anyone responsible for making a false distress or hoax call to the U.S. Coast Guard.
Anyone with information regarding false distress calls is encouraged to contact the U.S. Coast Guard at 206-220-7308.