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Document Number: 709
First District Public Affairs
U.S. Coast Guard

Press Release Date: July 26, 2006

Contact: Petty Officer Etta Smith
(617) 406-9011


BOSTON - A Fairhaven, Mass. fisherman was sentenced today in federal court for making calls to the Coast Guard on an emergency frequency falsely claiming to be aboard a sinking commercial fishing vessel in need of immediate assistance. Responding to these calls, the Coast Guard launched search and rescue missions at sea involving a Falcon jet, Jayhawk helicopters and patrol boats.
Brian Feener, 21, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Rya Zobel to 1 year and six months in prison, to be followed by 3 years of supervised release. Feener was also ordered to pay $82,004 in restitution to the U.S. Coast Guard. Feener pleaded guilty May 3, 2006, to two counts of communicating a false distress message and two counts of making a false statement.

At the earlier plea hearing, the prosecutor told the Court that, had the case proceeded to trial, the evidence would have proven that July 10, 2004, Feener radioed the Coast Guard on the international hailing and distress frequency from his home, claiming he was the captain of the fishing boat Why Not, which was taking on water near the entrance to Buzzards Bay. He told the Coast Guard, "If you could send a unit out to me, I'd really appreciate that." In response, the Coast Guard deployed an HU-25 Falcon jet, two HH-60 Jayhawk helicopters and three patrol boats, in a futile eight-hour search for the Why Not, a fishing vessel that later was determined not to exist, in the area where Feener claimed to be. The search cost the Coast Guard approximately $58,000 in crew and asset use.

Sept. 24, 2004, Feener called the Coast Guard a second time from his home on the same emergency frequency, claiming to be the captain of the fishing boat Determined, an actual New Bedford-based fishing vessel on which Feener had once been a crew member. The Determined was actually in port at the time of the call. During the call, Feener stated that the vessel was sinking twenty miles south of Nantucket and that he "needed one of them Coast Guard cutters to pull up." Feener concluded his transmission by stating, "I'm out. I'm going down. I got crew savers in the water. Fishing vessel Determined, out."

In response to this call, the Coast Guard launched a three-hour search and rescue mission involving a Jayhawk helicopter and a patrol boat, an effort that cost the Coast Guard about $24,000.

"Hoax distress calls are no joking matter," said Rear Adm. Sullivan. "The pointless searches they cause are a great waste of taxpayer funded resources. They also reduce the Coast Guard's ability to rescue mariners in true distress, senselessly putting lives at risk. Today's sentencing is a reminder that hoax calls are a very serious matter."

Hoax distress calls are a persistent problem for the Coast Guard and the boating public. According to Coast Guard statistics, in the First Coast Guard District alone, an area that encompasses the New Jersey and New England coasts, there have been 456 confirmed search and rescue (SAR) hoaxes in the last five years. During the same period, hoax calls cost the Coast Guard $13,982,960 in operating funds nationwide. Each time the Coast Guard launches a SAR mission, its personnel are placed in harm's way. During the last five years, for instance, 85 Coast Guardsmen have been injured in SAR missions. Hoax calls also heighten the risk to boaters, including commercial fisherman, in that emergency assistance may be unavailable when rescue personnel are responding to hoaxes.

The case was investigated by the U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service, with assistance from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Enforcement. It was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan F. Mitchell in Sullivan's Economic Crimes Unit.

Editor's Note: An audio file of a false distress call made by Feener is available.