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Hoax caller puts lives in jeopardy

A full search of the Thames at Gravesend began just after midnight today (Thursday 28 February), when a 999 call to London Coastguard reported three people in the river off Coalhouse Fort, in Gravesend Reach. The Gravesend RNLI lifeboat and the Port of London Authority (PLA) harbour launch "Gunfleet" were called to the scene.

When the two vessels reached the scene a number of cars parked near the fort, which previously had their headlights shining across the river, drove away. By then a full search of the river had been put in place. This also included an airborne search by two helicopters, one from RAF Wattisham and the other from Essex Police at Chelmsford. In addition a tug "Sun Thames" and three commercial ships in or approaching the area - "Whitspray", "Seariss" and "Arco Arun" – joined in the search.

Although suspected to be a hoax call, an extensive air and sea search was carried out. After two hours the search was called off and the emergency service vessels returned to their base at Gravesend. The commercial vessels carried on their voyages. Meanwhile, the Police had traced the 999 call to a public call box in Grays.

Commenting on behalf of all those involved, Geoff Adam, PLA Head of Port Promotion said:

"Hoax calls not only waste the time of the PLA, RNLI and other emergency services such as the Coastguard, but could put other people’s lives and vessels at risk. While the emergency crews are carrying out spurious searches, a real emergency may have meant that essential rescue resources were not available. It is disturbing that someone should get such a kick out of making hoax calls. They should remember that one day, it may be their life put at risk by a similar hoax caller."

Notes to Editors:

  1. The PLA is the navigation and port authority for the tidal Thames and works alongside the MCA and RNLI to provide safety cover on the Thames.
  2. London Coastguard co-ordinates search and rescue on the tidal Thames.
  3. The RNLI, a charity dependent on voluntary contributions and legacies, provides lifeboats for search and rescue on the Thames.