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Coast Guard Investigates Hoax Distress Calls On The Bay

BALTIMORE (WJZ)--Nothing but a hoax! Since June, more than a dozen distress calls were made on the Chesapeake Bay and now the Coast Guard wants answers.

Rick Ritter has the details.

Coast Guard officials say they're investigating two hoax callers---both cost them thousands of dollars---but even more concerning, put several lives at risk.

Coast Guard officials say the calls, which sounded like boaters in distress, were both just hoaxes.

"This person needs to be caught, needs to be corrected," said Rudy Sehoolman.

"It's very far from a joke," said Lt. Erin Slycord, United States Coast Guard.

On June 21, 11 calls came from the Leonardtown area from what appeared to be a child on a boat that was sinking. On July 3, there were distress calls from the Seneca Creek area.

They cost the Coast Guard at least $15,000.

"Every aircraft hour is about $10,000 and every boat hour is between $500 and $1,000," Slycord said.

Coast Guard officials say even beyond the financial cost, the hoax calls limit their ability to respond to other boaters who are actually in danger.

"If we're on a case that's a hoax case, that's an asset that's not able to respond for a real search and rescue case," Slycord said.

A boat owner himself, Donald Ellis says he's disgusted.

"If he's responding to a false call and someone loses their life, well, that's pretty serious," Ellis said.

Sehoolman couldn't agree more.

"It's a very serious situation," he said. "This could be your family."

The Coast Guard says they're hoping the public can identify the callers. They say child or adult, they're looking to make an example.

"Any way we can deter other people from doing this is what we'll pursue," Slycord said.

"I hope the judge gives you a sentence you'll never forget," Sehoolman said.

Making a false distress call is a felony with a maximum penalty of six years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines.

The Coast Guard Investigative Service is offering a reward of $2,000 for information that leads to the positive identification of the callers.

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