By Joseph O'Leary
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A New Jersey distress call about an exploded yacht, now considered a hoax, is being investigated for possible ties to a similar incident in Houston three weeks earlier, the Coast Guard said on Wednesday.
There are many links between last week's distress call in New Jersey and the one in Texas, and the probe is continuing to determine if the same individual is responsible, said Greg Hitchen, deputy commander of the Coast Guard's New York sector.
"By no means is it guaranteed," Hitchen said.
On June 11, a call that the Coast Guard now believes was sent from land claimed that 21 people had abandoned ship into life rafts after the yacht "Blind Date" exploded 17 miles off the beach in Sandy Hook, New Jersey.
A massive search involving more than 200 people found nothing and cost the Coast Guard more than $300,000.
The Texas call, made near Galveston (about 50 miles south of Houston) on May 20, reported six people were abandoning a fishing vessel taking on water. After the Coast Guard searched an area the size of Delaware, nothing was found, a spokesman said.
Both distress calls were made to the Coast Guard's traffic service instead of its search and rescue channel, both shared unique language such as "taking on water" and referred to those on board as "souls," and both callers had a similar voice and mannerisms, said Hitchen.
Both calls also appear to have originated from land, said the Coast Guard.
The Coast Guard continues to offer a $3,000 reward for information leading to prosecution. Making a false distress call is a federal felony that carries a maximum prison sentence of six years, a fine of up to $250,000 and requires reimbursing the Coast Guard for additional expenses.
There may, however, be an easier way to find the culprit.
"It's not atypical that someone would brag about it," Hitchen said.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Leslie Adler)