The Coast Guard said a distress call Thursday morning reporting a fishing boat in trouble off Spruce Head was a hoax and the person who called it in faces fines and a possible prison term.

A Coast Guard officer blasted the fake mayday transmission, which occurred just a week after a Portland-based fishing boat sank off Massachusetts with the loss of its four-man crew.

“Today’s hoax is particularly offensive given the loss of four fishermen aboard the Emmy Rose just last week,” Capt. Brian LeFebvre, commanding officer of Coast Guard Sector Northern New England, said in a statement Thursday evening. “We will use all available resources to identify and hold the responsible individual accountable.

“Our Coast Guard rescue crews thrive on taking risks for the sake of helping others in distress on the water,” LeFebvre said. “Hoax distress calls – like the one we received this morning – unnecessarily put our rescue crews at risk, drain resources, and may limit our ability to respond to actual emergencies.”

The incident began around 6:30 a.m. when the Coast Guard received a mayday transmission through VHF radio channel 16, an internationally recognized hailing and distress frequency. The caller, who had a thick Maine accent, said he was one of three crew members on a 42-foot fishing vessel that was taking on water.

Within hours, the Coast Guard released audio of the distress call and asked for help identifying the crew and vessel.

In the call, a man says, “Mayday, mayday, mayday. We lost our rudder and we’re taking on water fast. I just don’t have enough pumps to keep up with it. I’m going to try to get it to Atwood’s …” Atwood Lobster Company is located in South Thomaston.

Rescue crews from the Coast Guard Station Rockland and Air Station Cape Cod, and the Maine Marine Patrol spent the morning searching for the three people just south of Spruce Head, but officials say they found no sign of a boat in trouble. The search covered approximately 62 nautical square miles. The Coast Guard pursues all distress calls.

Shortly after noon, the Coast Guard announced it had “suspended the search pending further information due to a probable hoax.”

“There are no indications of distress or missing persons in the area,” the Coast Guard said on Twitter.

The caller’s identity remained unknown Thursday evening, according to the Coast Guard.

Intentionally communicating a false distress message to the Coast Guard is a felony under federal law, punishable by up to six years in prison, a $250,000 fine and a $10,000 civil penalty. The offender may also be required to reimburse the Coast Guard and other agencies for all costs incurred in responding.

A similar situation occurred about a year ago when the Coast Guard received a radio distress call from a man claiming that he and three children were aboard a boat that had capsized off Kennebunkport.


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