PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - The U.S. Coast Guard, faced with may be a series of fake distress calls, said on Wednesday it suspended its search for a sailboat reported sinking in the Atlantic Ocean off New Jersey and was investigating the incident as a possible hoax.
The first distress call came before dawn on Tuesday from a boat reportedly named the Courtney Lynn, and at about 4 a.m., a caller said the boat was almost submerged and the four-person crew was boarding a small dingy.
The caller said the crew had no way of communicating from the dingy.
While there are boats by that name in the region, contact with the owners provided no link to the distress calls, said Coast Guard spokeswoman Jetta Disco.
The search was called off mid-afternoon on Tuesday after no evidence of a sunken boat was found and officials received no further calls from anyone asking about the crew, Disco said.
The cost of searching the nearly 600 square miles near Sandy Hook, New Jersey, with a boat, two helicopters and a plane was nearly $88,000, she said.
The Coast Guard said it and other agencies have received 126 suspected hoax calls in northern New Jersey, New York City and the Hudson River since January 2010.
Making a phony distress call is a federal felony that carries a possible prison term of up to 10 years, a $250,000 fine and reimbursement to the Coast Guard for the cost of the search.
Disco said some of the phony distress calls seemed to be coming from children on board boats owned by their parents.
(Reporting by Dave Warner, editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Peter Bohan)