COASTGUARDS have criticised hoaxers who sparked a major land and sea search by firing red distress flares.

Multiple 999 calls were made after members of the public saw flares in the sky above Undershore Road, Lymington, which borders the Lymington River.

Police and coastguards scoured the area and Lymington lifeboat carried out a search along the river.

Coastguards started to receive reports of “fireworks” being let off in the area and found six spent flare cannisters in Monument Lane, Lymington.

A coastguard spokesman said: “These red parachute and hand-held flares are recognised international distress signals for maritime purposes and it’s illegal under the Merchant Shipping Act to use them for any other purpose.”

The spokesman said hoaxes could result in search and rescue units being diverted away from a genuine emergency.

He added: “On this occasion police, coastguard and RNLI assets were used.

“These pyrotechnics are extremely dangerous and pose a considerable threat to life if not deployed correctly. People are also reminded that flares should not be used if they have exceeded their expiry date.”

The incident began just before 6pm last Sunday.

The lifeboat crew had dealt with a genuine emergency earlier in the day and were still warming up at home when the second call came in.

A lifeboat spokesperson said: “HM Coastguard received multiple reports of flares seen in the area. The crew carried out a thorough search but found nothing.

“Local coastguard teams and police found spent flares in the area of the monument at Walhampton.”

The 75ft obelisk erected in memory of Admiral Sir Harry Burrard Neale, who lived nearby at what is now Walhampton School.

Sir Harry rose to become Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet.

He captured or destroyed 20 enemy vessels during his career as well as helping to defeat a mutiny and was also Lymington’s MP.