A wayward Sausalito sailboat skipper involved in a bizarre confrontation with a Coast Guard crew was charged with sending out a fake distress call and assaulting a federal officer following what he called an "act of war."
David McCormick, 47, who will appear for arraignment in federal court in San Francisco Aug. 7, also faces an inquiry by federal immigration authorities. He holds passports from both New Zealand and Ireland.
Although federal Magistrate Joseph C. Spero approved release of McCormick from San Francisco Jail on $100,000 bail, he remained in custody on orders of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, deputy U.S. Attorney Joshua Eaton said.
Federal prosecutors charged McCormick with placing a fake "Mayday" distress call from Richardson Bay Sunday morning, then failing to obey Coast Guard orders to "heave to," and assaulting an officer during an arrest at sea.
Coast Guard special agent Brandon Trinidad said McCormick told officers he regarded their bid to board his boat as "an act of war" and warned he had weapons to defend himself.
Authorities said events began to unfold about 9 a.m. Sunday, when McCormick, anchored in Richardson Bay aboard the 45-foot sailboat Fortune, is accused of making a phony distress call about a "best mate" lost overboard in the fog. An affidavit filed by agent Trinidad said a man with an Australian accent called for help. The investigator provided this transcript:
"Mayday, relay, Mayday, relay. Spots overboard, oh, he's over mate and he needs some help. He's over, um, in the fog somewhere in the bay, I don't know where, but I'm trying to search for him, so if you guys get a pretty quick boat to whip over here, jiffy, cheers buddy thanks."
Lt. Mark Leahey, a Coast Guard spokesman, said a helicopter was dispatched during a fruitless search that cost taxpayers about $30,000.
Another call by the same man about noon Sunday indicated that after "documenting response times of various agencies ... the drill was over" and that the "best mate" had been found, according to Trinidad's affidavit. Then, at 12:30 p.m., an emergency response radio beacon on the Fortune was activated, pinpointing its location off Sausalito.
Leahey, noting Sausalito police earlier in the week had informed the Coast Guard about a sailor aboard the Fortune "causing trouble," said authorities launched a safety inspection check about 4 p.m. "He was on our radar," Leahey said, noting the boat drew attention because it had no markings, registration numbers or identifying flags.
A distraught McCormick refused to allow crew members aboard.
"This is a peace ship," McCormick told them, according to the affidavit. "Any attempt to board my vessel is an act of war."
McCormick, warning he had weapons on board, cut his mooring line and headed out the Golden Gate, with two Coast Guard vessels in pursuit. At about 7 p.m., the Coast Guard cutter Sockeye pulled alongside about 2.5 miles southwest of the Golden Gate as McCormick talked about war.
"I will defend myself if I have to," he told the boarding party.
Then, as one officer tried to handcuff McCormick, explaining that his voyage was over, the suspect raised his fist and "flailed his open hands striking the federal officer approximately three times in the face."
McCormick was subdued and the Fortune was towed back to Sausalito, where the craft was searched. Nothing amiss was found.