Coast Guard searching for 'hoax caller' in Middle River

The U.S. Coast Guard asked for the public's help Wednesday identifying a "hoax caller" who made six fake distress calls between May 1 and June 1.

Each time, a male voice originating out of the Middle River area of Baltimore County has called out, "mayday, mayday," and each time Coast Guard personnel have found no evidence of people in distress.

All the calls came over a specific VHF-FM radio channel, the Coast Guard said.

The calls have led the Coast Guard to conduct four broad searches for the allegedly distressed caller, involving air and boat crews, that have cost $70,000, the Coast Guard said.

Aside from the monetary losses suffered by the Coast Guard, the fake calls have also caused "significant operational impact" on the Coast Guard's ability to respond to real emergencies during its searches for the hoax caller.

"Making false distress calls limits the Coast Guard and our rescue partners' capabilities to assist those boaters that are in actual emergency situations," Capt. Kevin Kiefer, commander of the Coast Guard's Baltimore sector, said in a statement. "Hoax radio calls also place first responders in unnecessary danger as they work to assist the boating public."

The Coast Guard said it deals with hundreds of hoax calls a year, and that the number has steadily risen since 1990, the first year it kept statistics on the problem.

People found guilty of making fake distress calls — a felony — can be sentenced to six years in prison, a $250,000 criminal fine, and a $5,000 civil fine, and can be forced to reimburse the Coast Guard for what it spent responding to the fake calls, the Coast Guard said.

Anyone with information about the caller in Middle River is asked to call the Coast Guard Investigative Service in Baltimore at 410-576-2515.

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