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Fake distress calls on the Great Lakes triple this year, Coast Guard says

Posted at 3:32 PM, Jul 06, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-07 12:54:13-04

Phony mayday calls to the Coast Guard stations watching over the Great Lakes are up this year.

The number of hoax calls have nearly tripled this year compared to this time last year.

Coast Guard officials say calls like that jeopardize man power that's much needed for real calls.

"When we hear 'May Day' in our command center, we hear distress. We hear someone is in trouble and we hear we need to respond," said Lt. Ben Chamberlain of the US Coast Guard sector Detroit.

Fake, phony, hoax, whatever you call it, calls like that made to US Coast Guard stations put responders and boaters at risk.

It hampers the ability to respond to someone else who may need help and every time responders react, they are putting their lives on the line.

"Whenever we get a call we can only work with the information that's given to us. One of the difficulties there is establishing what is real what is not."

So far this year, 60 lives have been saved in the Detroit region.

We're only in the halfway mark of 2017 and this year the coast guard stations manning the Great Lakes have gotten 160 hoax calls.

This time last year, they received 55 fake calls.

Coast Guard officials say a lot of times it could be adults and children playing around with the radio.

Lt. Chamberlain explained, "Unfortunately when someone sees the radio on the boat they think, 'oh that's neat.' And what do you say when you see that radio 'oh people say May Day in the movies all the time.'

But once they hear that, they have to take the call seriously.

"Taking away from our ability to respond, further if someone is on the radio and they're playing on a hail and distress frequency if it's not a real call they are potentially blocking somebody else who may be in trouble."

People making fake distress calls can face up to six years in prison and $250,000 in fines.

"That means the man hours for every individual crew member on board, the fuel for each vessel, the maintenance hours that go into the underway time, it adds up quickly."