A Seattle man has been indicated by a federal grand jury on charges he made phony reports of a vessel in distress.
The bogus calls cost the agency more than $50,000.
The accused hoaxer is John W. Graham, 37. He faces three counts of making false statements related to the reports of a vessel in distress. The indictment was handed down Wednesday.
Making false statements is punishable by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Making a false distress message is punishable by up to six years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and all the costs incurred by the responding agency.
Federal prosecutors said that on Nov. 18, 2009, Graham transmitted a signal to the Coast Guard on the international hailing and distress frequency (VHF marine band Channel 16), in which he claimed he had heard and was relaying a distress call from a sailing vessel that was taking on water with three people on board south of Friday Harbor, Wash.
The U.S. Coast Guard scrambled two helicopters and a boat to search for the vessel. No vessel in distress was found and the report was determined to be a hoax.
Graham is expected to be arraigned May 26, 2011, for two counts of making false statements and one count of making a false distress message and causing an attempt to save lives.
According to the indictment, after saying he had heard the distress call via marine band radio, Graham followed up with a cell phone call to the Coast Guard. He reaffirmed that he had heard a distress call from a sailing vessel with three people on board, taking on water south of Friday Harbor. The Coast Guard launched two helicopters from Air Station Port Angeles, Wash. One was diverted from other duties.
The air and marine search lasted more than six hours and cost about $54,000.
The third count in the indictment relates to the information that prosecutors say Graham provided when he was interviewed by Coast Guard investigative service agents on the same day. Graham claimed he had overheard the distress call while working on a friend's sailboat in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle, authorities said.
Rear Adm. Gary T. Blore, commander of the 13th Coast Guard District in Seattle, condemned the action.
"Hoaxes are a tremendous burden on resources and a waste of taxpayers' dollars," he said. "It is costly in many ways as lives can be lost when the Coast Guard is responding to the report of a false distress.
"Deploying our resources to a false distress can prohibit the Coast Guard from a timely response to a genuine emergency."