Rhode Island Men Resolve Case Brought for Touching Off Needless Ocean Search and Rescue Operation with Distress Flares

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. – The United States today announced that it has reached an agreement to resolve civil claims against two Block Island residents: Perry C. Phillips, 31, and Benjamin C. Foster, 33, whose actions touched off a needless and expensive maritime search and rescue operation off the coast of Block Island.

As detailed in a civil complaint filed today in Federal Court in Providence, the two men, intending to celebrate a friend’s wedding in the Breezy Point area of Block Island, borrowed a nautical flare gun and flares, and set out in a small skiff on the evening of on June 6, 2020.  When they reached the vicinity of the wedding reception, Phillips and Foster discharged three of the flares, recording their actions on video for posting 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. 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. 

Interpreting the flares as a nautical distress signal, the Coast Guard, alongside local authorities, launched a multi-hour search operation off the waters and shoreline 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. Under this agreement, the Defendants have admitted to the conduct alleged by the Government and will pay a statutory civil penalty of $10,000 to resolve this matter.

Today’s filing and resolution is announced by Acting U.S. Attorney Richard B. Myrus and Captain Clinton J. Prindle of United State Coast Guard Sector Southeast New England.

The case was litigated by Assistant U.S. Attorney Zachary A. Cunha.

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