Prison Sentence for Man Making Hoax Distress Call

file photo: coast guard rescue

By The Maritime Executive 2016-01-08 17:14:07

A 27-year-old North Carolina man has been sentenced to 41 months jail and fined $18,994 for making a hoax distress call to the U.S. Coast Guard.

United States Attorney Thomas G. Walker announced the decision handed down in federal court on January 6 by United States District Judge Louise W. Flanagan.

The man, Charles Robert Dowd, 27, of Beaufort, North Carolina, entered a guilty plea on September 16, 2015.

According to information in the public record, on October 20, 2013, the United States Coast Guard received a MayDay call in which the caller claimed a vessel with five adults and two children was taking on water and sinking near the Core Creek Bridge in Beaufort, North Carolina. The calls indicated that one child was stuck on the vessel and could not be seen.  

Upon receipt of the distress call, small boats from Coast Guard Station Fort Macon, North Carolina; a helicopter from the Marine Corps Air Station at Cherry Point, North Carolina; a towboat from a local salvage company; and emergency responders from the sheriff’s office and two fire departments were deployed to assist in the search and rescue of the vessel.  

However, response crews found no vessel or persons in distress. Ultimately, the Coast Guard determined that the call was a hoax, but not until after $18,994.00 worth of resources were expended.

“The Coast Guard has a long and proud history of Search and Rescue, often at great personal risk to those who chose to devote their life to the service of others,” said Captain Sean Murtagh, commander of Sector North Carolina. “False distress calls incur significant cost to the public by obligating search resources and vast amounts of tax payer dollars. More importantly, they risk the very lives of responders for cases where no actual distress exists.  Additionally, these false distress calls take search and rescue resources away from those who may be in real distress.

“Through the vigilance of the public, our strong partnerships with the Department of Justice, the U.S. Attorney's Office, and our Coast Guard Investigative Service, this case affirms our collective commitment to holding accountable those individuals who make hoax calls.”

The search and rescue efforts were led by United States Coast Guard – 5th District and Coast Guard Sector North Carolina. The criminal investigation of this case was conducted by the United States Coast Guard Investigative Service.  Assistant United States Attorney Susan B. Menzer prosecuted the case.

Hoax Calls

In 1990, the first year the Coast Guard began keeping statistics on rescue hoaxes, U.S. Coast Guard units responded to 205 hoaxes. This number has increased steadily every year.

In 2014, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld a restitution payment of nearly $500,000 as part of the sentence handed down in United States of America v. Danik Shiv Kumar for making a false distress call that caused a massive search on Lake Erie in March 2012. Kumar was originally sentenced to three months jail and ordered to pay $489,007 in restitution to the U.S. and Canadian governments for cost incurred during a 21-hour search for four boaters reported to be in distress.