Federal officials have filed charges in Miami against a man who they say was spotted floating 70 miles off a Georgia island inside a giant hamster wheel as Hurricane Franklin advanced nearby, court records show.
The criminal complaint says Ray Baluchi of Florida threatened to hurt himself using knives and an explosive if Coast Guard officers attempted to remove him from the floating apparatus that they had deemed unsafe.
The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Valiant was preparing in the Atlantic Ocean for Franklin on Aug. 26 when officers discovered the homemade hydro pod vessel. When asked for his vessel registration, Baluchi, also known as Reza, failed to provide one — telling officers his final destination was London, England.
When officers approached Baluchi’s vessel and told him they were terminating his voyage, Baluchi threatened self-harm with a knife — prompting officers to return to their boat, the complaint says.
The next day, Coast Guardsmen say they tried again to get Baluchi out of the hydro pod, but the situation escalated when he threatened to blow himself up if they got any closer.
“USCG officers believed this to be a valid threat, as they observed Baluchi holding wires in his hand,” the criminal complaint says.
On Aug. 28, a second Coast Guard cutter, Campbell, arrived to provide support. Officers aboard the ship launched a small boat to try to deliver food, water and predictions of the incoming hurricane to Baluchi. Again, officers say they ordered him to get off his vessel but he refused and said that the bomb wasn’t real.
It wasn’t until the fourth day, Aug. 29, that Coast Guard officers safely removed Baluchi from the vessel. On Sept. 1, he was brought ashore at the Coast Guard base in Miami Beach.
Baluchi had attempted voyages in a similar homemade vessel in 2014, 2016 and 2021, all of which were stopped by the Coast Guard, according to the criminal complaint.
In August 2015, Baluchi was served with an order from the commander for the Coast Guard’s Seventh District, mandating him to clear future similar voyages with the military agency and to employ a “support vessel.” The Florida man failed to comply with the order and was stopped in another homemade vessel in 2016.
Baluchi was charged Sept. 1 with obstruction of a boarding and violation of a captain of the port order. On Wednesday, he entered a $250,00 bond. His first formal appearance in court is set for Sept. 15.
© 2023 Miami Herald
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.