Coast Guard sees spike in suspected hoax distress calls across region

A Coast Guard 47-foot Motor Life Boat crew from Station Hatteras Inlet approaches a sailboat taking on water 13 miles east of Hatteras Island, North Carolina, Nov. 26, 2017. An MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew from Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City and a 29-foot Response Boat-Small crew from Station Hatteras Inlet also arrived on scene to assist. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Chuck Seckinger/Released)

COAST GUARD, Va. (WAVY) — The U.S. Coast Guard says it saw an increase in suspected hoax distress calls in Virginia and North Carolina last month.

Coast Guard officials say watchstanders in Wilmington and Hampton Roads usually see increases in false distress cases in the late-fall.

Watchstanders notice this increase on VHF-FM channel 16.

“We don’t take hoax distress lightly,” said Capt. Richard Wester, commander, Sector Hampton Roads. “We, along with our partner agencies, will pursue the prosecution of suspects to the fullest extent of the law.”

This diagram depicts the various ways U.S. Coast Guard and its Investigative Service can track hoax callers. (USCG Graphic)

Wester pointed to a 2016 case of a Newport News man. 39-year-old Justin P. Stahmer was convicted by a federal jury last month for issuing a fake distress call to the U.S. Coast Guard.

Adults are not always the culprits, but the Coast Guard says if children play around on the radio, it’s ultimately the parents who are held accountable.

These hoax distress calls are considered a Class D felony, which carries a hefty fine, up to 10 years imprisonment and the cost of performing the search.