(CNN) -- The United States Coast Guard said Tuesday that it's offering a $3,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of those responsible for an apparent hoax that prompted a massive rescue effort off the coast of New Jersey following a false distress call.
"More than 200 first responders assembled mass casualty receptions areas in Newark, and Coast Guard Station Sandy Hook, N.J., preparing to receive the reported injured passengers," Cmdr. Kenneth Pierro said in a written statement.
An intensive search for injured and adrift passengers from a yacht purportedly hit by an explosion at sea turned up no evidence of people, debris, or even a boat, the U.S. Coast Guard said Monday evening.
Nearly five hours after the search was launched, it was suspended, according to Petty Officer Jetta Disco.
Making a false distress call is considered a felony, punishable by up to 10 years behind bars and a $250,000 fine, the Guard reported. The person responsible could also be required to reimburse the Coast Guard for the cost of the search.
Last year, the Coast Guard said it and other state and local agencies faced over 60 suspected hoaxes in the northern New Jersey, New York City and Hudson River region.
Earlier, as the search was under way, Coast Guard Petty Officer Erik Swanson conceded, "At this time, we are considering the possibility that this is a hoax."
Swanson told CNN that a search-and-rescue effort had been launched after the Coast Guard received a call that seven people had been injured in an explosion aboard a yacht off the coast of New Jersey.
A total of 21 people were on board the "Blind Date" and all were reported to be in life rafts, Swanson said.
The incident was reported at 4:20 p.m. and was called in by solar radio because the boat's electronics were not working after the explosion, he said.
But a nearly four-hour search involving Coast Guard helicopters and other vessels found nothing in the targeted area 17 miles off the coast of Sandy Hook, New Jersey.
Swanson said it would be unusual to search that long with that many assets and not find something if indeed the reported incident had occurred.