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Coast Guard believes NJ yacht explosion was 'hoax'

The U.S. Coast Guard says a distress call reporting an explosion on a yacht off New Jersey's coast was likely a hoax. WNBC-TV's Katy Tur reports.

The U.S. Coast Guard has suspended a search for 21 people who abandoned ship after a reported explosion Monday on a yacht off the coast of central New Jersey, saying the incident was believed to be a hoax.

The FBI in New Jersey has opened an investigation to determine whether any federal laws were violated, according to NBCNewYork.com. It is being conducted jointly with the Coast Guard. 

The rescue mission was launched after authorities received an emergency radio transmission around 4:20 p.m. Monday from a boat identifying itself as Blind Date, according to a Coast Guard press release. The caller reported the yacht carrying 21 passengers, seven of whom were injured, sank about 17 nautical miles east of Sandy Hook, N.J., after an explosion destroyed the boat’s electronics and GPS. The caller said all passengers had made it on to life rafts.

The Coast Guard deployed two boat crews and four helicopters in Monday’s search. Response units from the New York City Police Department, Fire Department, the New Jersey State Police and the Nassau County Police Department were also on the scene.


Chip East/Reuters

CW3 Troy Loining of the U.S. Coast Guard speaks to journalists outside the gates of the Coast Guard station at Sandy Hook, New Jersey, Monday. The U.S. Coast Guard has found no debris or survivors from a reported explosion aboard Blind Date, a yacht 17.5 miles (28 km) off the New Jersey coast, raising the possibility that the incident could have been a hoax, spokesman Petty Officer Erik Swanson said on Monday.

Additionally, Commander Kenneth Pierro of Coast Guard Sector New York said that more than 200 first responders had assembled at mass casualty stations, and officials said several good Samaritans had assisted authorities in the lengthy search, reported NBCNewYork.com.

But after hours of searching, rescue crews found no sign of any distress in the water, and it became clear there was no explosion.

“We believe it was a hoax,” said Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer Troy Loining. “We didn’t find anything.”

Making a false distress call is a felony, with a maximum penalty of five to 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and reimbursement to the Coast Guard for the cost of performing the search.

While no official cost estimates have been released, Coast Guard spokesperson Jetta Disco told msnbc.com that the price of covering the Coast Guard’s response in this rescue mission alone will be well over $100,000.

So far, no state or local agencies have received any missing person reports, according to NBCNewYork.com.

The Coast Guard and other state and local agencies responded last year to more than 60 suspected hoax calls in the northern Hudson River region, including one claiming a 33-foot sailboat was sinking, according to the Coast Guard press release. A 10-hour search costing almost $88,000 turned up no boaters, and an investigation was launched. No one has been prosecuted.  

“Sham sinkings, like bomb threats and other hoaxes, needlessly risk the lives of first responders and waste resources dedicated to keeping the public safe from harm," Rebekah Carmichael, spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office in New Jersey, told NBCNewYork.com's Jonathan Dienst. "We are working with the Coast Guard and our other law enforcement partners who are looking into this matter, and urge anyone with leads to contact the Coast Guard or the New Jersey FBI immediately.” 

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