Discarded beacon costs thousands in wasted search time

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The bizarre behaviour of a discarded emergency beacon has been likened to something from a Monty Python sketch - but entirely without the laughs.

Since June the radio beacon (EPIRB) had been flashing an emergency signal at irregular intervals - and on each occasion the emergency services have had to do a full-scale search of coastline and land, lasting up to two hours.

This has happened no fewer than 11 times.

All the GPS information pointed to the beacon being within Peterhead itself, but it was unable to pinpoint its exact location.

Then, last week, the mystery was solved when a member of the lifeboat crew spotted the device in a rubbish skip at the harbour.

The theory is that the device, which activates when a vessel capsizes or sinks and it becomes wet, had started to broadcast its emergency signal every time it was soaked by rain.

The EPIRB has now been de-activated by removal of its battery, and it has been taken off the list of ‘live’ beacons.

Unfortunately, there is no clue to the identity of the person who discarded the EPIRB, presumably without realising that it was still capable of being activated.

A Coastguard spokesman said: “We have always believed it was being triggered accidentally, and not as part of a hoax.

“The best things an owner can do it to register their EPIRB and put it on their boat - it’s no use in a skip.”

The beacons are particularly important for fishermen who set off solo to check creels, etc.