PROVIDENCE — Two Block Island residents have agreed to each pay a $10,000 civil penalty after federal officials said they shot several flares from a skiff, triggering a needless and expensive U.S. Coast Guard search and rescue operation.
The U.S. Department of Justice said in a news release Tuesday that 31-year-old Perry C. Phillips and 33-year-old Benjamin C. Foster, both Block Island residents, reached the agreement to resolve civil claims related to an incident and response that occurred on June 6, 2020. With payment of the fines, officials said the matter would be considered closed.
According to court documents, the two men were in the area of Breezy Point on Block Island to celebrate a friend's wedding when they borrowed a nautical flare gun and several flares before heading out onto the water in a small skiff. Officials said the two men then shot three flares once they had reached the area where the wedding was being held.
The two had recorded a video, which federal officials said was later posted on social media.
"At least one of the two knew at the time that the flares were a maritime distress signal, and both understood that it was improper to use them as they did," U.S. Department of Justice spokesman Jim Martin said in a news release. "The pair then returned to shore, unaware that their actions prompted observers to report the flares to the New Shoreham harbormaster, who in turn alerted the U.S. Coast Guard."
The Coast Guard and local authorities, concerned it was a distress signal, launched a several-hour search operation in the area where the flares were sighted. The search involved a surface vessel and two Coast Guard helicopters, including one based in Point Judith and another at U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod.
Under federal law, falsely communicating a distress signal and causing the Coast Guard to attempt to save lives and property when no help is needed is illegal and carries civil and/or criminal penalties. The agreement stipulates that each pay a statutory civil penalty of $10,000 to resolve the matter.
— Jason Vallee