Coast Guard unhappy with Block Islanders’ flare
Block Island residents Perry Phillips and Benjamin Foster entered into a settlement agreement on Monday to pay $10,000 for
their antics at sea last summer, a prank that went horribly wrong and resulted in a cost of $103,948 to the U.S. Coast Guard.
According to the complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Providence, Rhode Island, on the night of June 6, 2020, the defendants
borrowed a flare gun and flares from a friend and set off in a skiff from Payne’s Dock, proceeding to Breezy Point.
Once there, at approximately 9:30 p.m., the defendants “proceeded to knowingly, purposefully, and/or intentionally discharge approximately three flares into the air using the flare gun, in a manner that caused the flares to be visible at a distance.”
The flares were indeed visible from the island, as “one or more citizens contacted the harbormaster to report the flares.” Naturally, the harbormaster, along with an officer of the New Shoreham Police Department sprang into action. The complaint states: “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 the defendants, are understood to convey that a vessel or its crew is in distress or in need of assistance.”
The harbormaster and police officer began searching the water and shoreline for the distressed vessel, spending an hour-and-a-half looking for the endangered sailors. They were nowhere to be found, however, since Phillips and Foster had returned to Payne’s Dock in their skiff after firing the flares.
The Coast Guard, “authorized by statute to perform any and all acts necessary to rescue and aid persons and protect and save
property,” showed up with two aircraft and a rescue boat of their own, conducting a three- hour search.
According to the complaint, the defendants knew at the time that the flares should not have been used under those circumstances, and “knowingly and willfully communicated a false distress message to the Coast Guard,” through the use of the flares.
As evidence, Acting United States Attorney for the District of Rhode Island Richard B. Myrus submitted video of the flares, filmed
by the defendants and posted on social media.
Under the settlement reached, the defendants admit the facts of the complaint and agree to pay $5,000 each, and in return, the
case will be dismissed with prejudice, and Foster and Phillips will be released from any civil and administrative monetary claims.
Luckily, the Coast Guard does not seem to hold grudges, as Phillips was involved in an actual rescue this summer. He was part of the crew onboard the fishing vessel, Nite Nurse, which sank off the coast of Montauk, New York in July. Flare practice makes perfect, as the Coast Guard pilot who flew the rescue mission, Lt. Banning Lobmeyer, reported that the mariners on the Nite Nurse “did everything professional mariners should do to be found.”
According to Lt. Lobmeyer, this included “reporting the problem early,” wearing “appropriate survival suits,” and, of course, “using flares.”