Earlier tonight, there were reports of a yacht explosion off the coast of Sandy Hook, New Jersey: 21 passengers, 9 of them badly burned, had apparently escaped into life boats.

Here's the thing, though — the Coast Guard can't find any trace of the yacht or its supposed passengers.

Officials are now pretty sure this whole thing is a hoax, and a really illegal one at that.

The distress call — which claimed that the yacht Blind Date had suffered an explosion, and that the call was coming from a solar-powered radio — led to a significant effort from the Coast Guard. Over 200 first responders set up reception areas in Newark, while Coast Guard boats and helicopters searched 638 square nautical miles.

Officials said it was "highly unusual" that no debris or passengers have been found. That's probably why the Coast Guard has called off the search.

And now they're looking to punish the person who made the distress call, which could prove to be a seriously expensive (and unfunny) prank. The perpetrator could owe a $250,000 fine, in addition to reimbursement for what the Coast Guard spent on recovery efforts.

Oh, and a maximum of five to ten years in prison. Hope it was worth it.

[Image via Shutterstock]