Two Block Island men have agreed to pay $5,000 each to resolve civil claims that their setting off nautical distress flares to celebrate a wedding triggered a needless Coast Guard search off Block Island.
Federal officials initially sought to recover the cost of the search, which included two helicopters, and was calculated at $103,948, in addition to a $10,000 fine.
The settlement was announced Tuesday by the U.S. attorney’s office in Providence, which filed the civil complaint in U.S. District Court.
According to the complaint, Perry C. Phillips, 31, and Benjamin C. Foster, 33, set off the flares on the night of June 6, 2020, so they could be seen by guests at a friend’s wedding in the Breezy Point area.
The two men borrowed a nautical flare gun and flares, set out from Payne’s Dock in a small skiff and launched three flares around 9:30 p.m., according to the complaint.
Phillips and Foster also recorded themselves launching the flares and posted it to social media, according to the complaint.
The pair returned to shore without realizing that observers had reported the flares to the New Shoreham harbormaster, who alerted the Coast Guard, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
“As a matter of commonly accepted maritime custom and practice, the discharge of flares of the color and type used by Defendants, and in the manner discharged by Defendants, are understood to convey that a vessel or its crew is in distress or in need of assistance,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in its civil complaint.
The complaint also claimed, “At least one of the two (Phillips and Foster) 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 flares prompted the New Shoreham harbormaster and a police officer to search for an hour and a half in the water and along the shoreline. The Coast Guard searched with a boat and a helicopter out of Point Judith. The Coast Guard also sent another helicopter for Air Station Cape Cod in Massachusetts.
The civil complaint will be dismissed when Phillips and Foster pay the $5,000 each. The agreement noted that both men provided sworn statements and documentation that they don’t have the financial means to pay the amount, including restitution for the search, demanded in the complaint.
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