A Coast Guard detachment in Florida is asking for tips that may help investigators track down a person making fake "mayday" calls on marine band radio and describing a military response to a nuclear attack.
The calls and threats originate off the Gulf Coast of Florida, according to a news release from Coast Guard Public Affairs Detachment Tampa Bay. The pattern of threats and false alarms has continued for some time; the release, issued Thursday, states that Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg received the latest threat Aug. 13, via VHF channel 22A.
"In this call, the male caller makes threats against the Coast Guard personnel, aircraft and vessels," officials said in the release. "The broadcast sounds like the same person who has made other radio broadcasts that start with MAYDAY three times and then talks about, 'scrambling all jets we are under nuclear attack.'"
Coast Guard Investigative Service St. Petersburg is calling on the public to share any information leading to the identification of the hoaxer. CGIS, a federal law enforcement agency, investigates crimes within the Coast Guard, but is also tasked as part of its mission with investigating external maritime matters, including false distress calls.
These kinds of calls are not uncommon; in June, the Coast Guard published several releases asking the public to track down people behind hoax radio transmissions. One caller, from the Pamlico Sound and Oregon Inlet area of North Carolina, made calls "stating that they were 'going down' and regularly broadcasts 'mayday' or 'help,' along with a string of other calls, including profanity," according to a report from news outlet Coastal Review.
Around the same time, a suspected hoax caller from the Ocean City, Maryland, area made transmissions claiming to be "going down with the ship" and interspersed "mayday" calls with profanity.
According to the recent release, those found guilty of making false distress calls may face up to 10 years in prison and $250,000 in fines on top of whatever it costs to search for and apprehend them.
While the Coast Guard does not always announce when suspected hoax perpetrators are apprehended, some do end up doing time. In 2015, a 23-year-old man from Vinalhaven, Maine, was sentenced to a year in prison, up to one year in community confinement and restitution of $15,000 to the Coast Guard "for the costs associated with the search that it conducted in response to the hoax calls," according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
"Hoax calls are costly to the taxpayer and our service," Charles "Marty" Russell, resident agent-in-charge of the Coast Guard Investigative Service office in St. Petersburg, said in a statement. "When the Coast Guard receives a distress call, we immediately respond, putting our crews at risk, and risking the lives of boaters who may legitimately need our help."
Those with information about the identity of the hoax caller can call Coast Guard Investigative Service St. Petersburg at (727) 535-1437 extension 2308.