Coastguards call off big sea search

Coastguards have called off an extensive air and sea search off the North Norfolk coast after the source of a faint distress signal could not be found.

Coastguards have condemned hoaxers who sparked a full-scale air and sea search off the North Norfolk coast by sending a bogus distress signal.

Lifeboat crews from Wells and Sheringham and a Sea King helicopter were called out shortly after 2pm on Tuesday after Yarmouth coastguards picked up a garbled radio transmission.

The signal appeared to be from a boat which was taking in water about five miles offshore, near the Blakeney Overfalls.

A triangular fix on the source of the transmission gave rescue teams a boxed search area which bordered parts of the shoreline at Blakeney.

But, in near-perfect search conditions, nothing was found and the search was called off at 5pm following extensive inshore searches and calls to police and nearby harbours.

Colin Tomlinson, rescue centre manager at Yarmouth coastguard, said the false call-out cost at least �20,000 and could have endangered the lives of anyone in genuine danger.

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'It is infuriating,' he said. 'If we could catch them we would definitely prosecute. It is wasting resources and diverting them away from where they could be needed.

'These vessels have to go back and re-fuel before they can be used again, which might mean a slower response next time.

'Phone hoaxes are easier to determine but with this radio signal we were about 90pc sure it was not genuine, but there was a 10pc chance it was. On that basis we had to take the decision to do a search.'

Mr Tomlinson said the message contained an indecipherable vessel name, a position and a plea for help claiming a crew was taking in water.

'It was a strong signal which was picked up by two of our radar stations and other boats, but the message was mumbled.

'The area we searched was partly based on the position given in the message and also from the triangulation of the source from the radar sites.

'We had to take the worst case option, that it was genuine call from a vessel which was sinking.'