The U.S. Coast Guard is suspending its search off the California coast for a distressed 29-foot sailboat that was carrying a couple and two children, and explained the incident is “possibly a hoax,” Cmdr. Don Montoro said Tuesday.
The mission’s cost has reached several hundreds of thousands of dollars since Sunday, he said.
Searchers have been scouring the water off San Francisco for the people distress calls said were on the boat. That included the couple, their 4-year-old child and the child’s cousin, who the Coast Guard said was younger than 8.
Coast Guard investigators will look into the incident and “prosecute it and investigate it to the best of their ability,” Montoro said.
“We’re not investigating it directly as a hoax, but we are pursuing every avenue. It’s certainly a possibility,” he told reporters.
“I know we do have successful prosecutions” on such hoaxes, he said, “and it would be taken very seriously.”
The weather offshore during the search featured gale-force winds and 25-foot seas, he said.
The search area was nearly the size of West Virginia — 20,000 square miles, Montoro said.
On Sunday afternoon, the Coast Guard received a radio communication that stated: “This is the Charm Blow, we are abandoning ship.”
The man on the radio told the Coast Guard that the boat had begun taking on water and its electronics were failing, the agency said. At that time, the boat was believed to be some 65 miles (105 kilometers) off Pillar Point, south of San Francisco.
The focus of the search had been 60 to 65 miles off Monterey Bay, said Lt. Heather Lampert, a Coast Guard spokeswoman.
Several aircraft and vessels joined the search.
CNN’s Dan Simon reported from San Francisco and Michael Martinez from Los Angeles.
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