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Maine buoy bell mystery

Dec 31, 2018

The bell on the White Bull lighted buoy was the latest to be reported stolen.

NOAA

The Coast Guard is still looking for help solving an unusual crime: Thieves are stealing signaling bells from navigational buoys off the Maine coast.

The agency said this summer that brass bells and other components went missing from nine buoys floating in Penobscot Bay over a nine-month period ending in August 2018. The agency has offered a cash reward but still hasn’t cracked the case.

“We haven’t had any leads,” said Lt. Chellsey Phillips, a U.S. Coast Guard spokeswoman based in Maine, who added that the investigation remains open. “We’re still hoping someone will come forward.”

The White Bull Lighted Gong Buoy, located roughly two miles off Bailey Island, Maine, was the last bell reported missing. It reportedly weighs about 375 pounds. Authorities suspect these “high-dollar devices” have been sold to nautical novelty shops or scrap metal yards.

The missing buoy bells mark hazardous ledges and routes used by passenger ferries. In an August news release, the Coast Guard made clear these components play a crucial role in safe navigation during periods of reduced visibility. As of late November, not all of the bells and other components have been replaced.

Although this crime has precedent — buoy bells have been stolen elsewhere in the U.S., including around Boston — Phillips said it’s never before been a problem off the Maine coast.

Whomever is responsible could face steep consequences if they’re caught. Tampering with aids to navigation is a federal crime punishable by  fines reaching $25,000 per day, or up to a year in prison.

The cash reward could turn into a decent sum. According to the Coast Guard, anyone who provides information leading to a conviction is eligible to receive up to half of the fine imposed on the crooks.

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