A Rockland man pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday to making a fake distress call in December 2020 that triggered a large search effort.

The man, 31-year-old Nathan Libby, pleaded guilty Thursday to making the fake distress call on Dec. 3, 2020, the Courier-Gazette reported. Libby’s call caused Coast Guard rescue crews to spring into action, searching the waters off Spruce Head.

Libby could face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, but his specific sentencing will come after an investigation by the U.S. Probation Office, according to the newspaper.

Around 6:30 a.m. on Dec. 3, 2020, the Coast Guard received a distress call claiming a boat was taking on water and the crew was preparing to jump ship. But, after several hours of searching, the Coast Guard called off the search after rescuers found “no indications of distress or missing persons in the area.”

In a recording, released at the time of the search, a man was heard calling for help but doesn’t identify his ship or himself.

“Mayday. Mayday. We lost our rudder. And we’re taking on water fast. We don’t have enough pumps to keep up with it,” the unidentified man said in the recording.

A Maine Marine Patrol officer went to Atwood Lobster Co.’s wharf in Spruce Head, where the man in the distress call claimed he was trying to reach. After searching the water off Spruce Head, the officer returned and spoke with Libby, who was a dock worker at the Spruce Head Fisherman’s Co-op, next to Atwood’s, the newspaper reported.

The officer then spoke to someone else at the co-op and played the recording of the call, which the man said sounded like Libby. The officer discovered the co-op had a VHF radio dialed into the same channel on which the distress call was made.

Then the officer taped Libby’s voice, which was compared with the distress call by a research professor at the Language Technologies Institute School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. The professor confirmed Libby’s voice was the same as the one on the recording, according to the Gazette.

Surveillance video also showed Libby at the office at the time of the distress call.

Libby’s fake distress call came less than two weeks after the Emmy Rose sank off the coast of Massachusetts, killing all four crew members on board.

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Sawyer Loftus

Sawyer Loftus is a reporter covering Old Town, Orono and the surrounding areas. A recent graduate of the University of Vermont, Sawyer grew up in Vermont where he's worked for Vermont Public Radio, The...