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Investigators try to track down false yacht mayday

By Todd Sperry, CNN
updated 11:50 AM EDT, Sat June 16, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Coast Guard says it has determined the area the fake distress call came from
  • The call sparked a five-hour search for 21 people supposedly on a sinking yacht
  • Making a false distress call is a felony, but many such calls are made, officials say

(CNN) -- The U.S. Coast Guard said Thursday it has received more than 50 calls to its tip line about a false distress call of a yacht explosion that prompted massive rescue effort Monday off the coast of New Jersey.

Authorities have determined the hoax call came from somewhere between Staten Island, New York, and Sandy Hook, New Jersey, Coast Guard Petty Officer Jetta Disco told CNN.

Earlier in the week, authorities released an audio excerpt from the call. On the recording, a male voice is heard saying, "We have 21 souls on board, 20 in the water right now. I have three deceased on board, nine injured because of the explosion we've had. I'm in three feet of water on the bridge. I'm going to stay by the radio as long as I can before I have to go overboard."

The call sparked an intensive search for survivors but turned up no evidence of people, a boat or even debris, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

The search was suspended nearly five hours after it was launched.

Coast Guard Petty Officer Erik Swanson said it would be unusual to search that long with the number of units that were involved and not find something, if indeed the reported incident had occurred.

Making a false distress call is considered a felony, punishable by up to 10 years behind bars and a $250,000 fine, the Coast Guard noted. 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 fielded more than 60 suspected hoaxes in the northern New Jersey, New York City and Hudson River region. In May, a California man was sentenced to one year in federal prison and fined nearly $7,000 after pleading guilty to communicating hoax distress calls in 2010 and 2011.

Coast Guard offers reward after apparent hoax

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