False alarm off Maui prompts warning on illegal use of flares
The Coast Guard is warning Hawaii residents that misusing emergency distress flares is a crime, after responding to a false alarm earlier this week.
Misuse of the flares carries a maximum fine of $5,000 and six years in jail, according to a Coast Guard spokesman.
The warning was issued after an incident at about 7:31 p.m. Tuesday, when a group of people were seen setting off fireworks and flares from land over the water between Makena landing and Molokini crater, in the southern part of Maui.
The Coast Guard's rescue boat and the Maui Fire Department responded to the sighting of three red distress flares, said Coast Guard spokesman Michael DeNyse.
Several people admitted to setting them off, but no arrests were made, DeNyse said. Instead, they were informed that setting off false distress calls is illegal. "Because of the holiday season, they might not realize that it is illegal," he said.
It is considered a Class D felony for an individual "who knowingly and willfully communicates a false distress message to the Coast Guard or causes the Coast Guard to attempt to save lives and property when no help is needed."
Violators also are liable for costs incurred by the Coast Guard to respond. DeNyse said it costs about $400 an hour to operate a standard rescue boat, and $1,500 to $3,000 an hour to operate a helicopter or cutter.
"If you are claiming distress when in fact you are not in any distress at all, you are causing the Coast Guard to risk their lives and the lives of people that might actually be in trouble," he said.