The Coast Guard is on the lookout for whoever has been stealing brass sound-signaling devices from navigational buoys off the Maine coast.

Coast Guard officials based in South Portland say the thefts pose a public safety hazard because the sound produced by the brass gongs and bells attached to the buoys are critical to mariners trying to navigate when visibility is poor.

“These thefts not only reduce the reliability of our aids-to-navigation system and put lives at risk, but they also create a burden and expense to the taxpayer for the buoy tenders and crews responsible for maintaining the aids,” said Lt. Matthew Odom, chief of the Waterways Management Division for Coast Guard Sector Northern New England, said in a prepared statement.

What’s missing? The bell that hangs in the center of this bell buoy. Photo courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard

The Coast Guard believes the stolen brass gongs and bells, which are expensive, are being sold to nautical novelty shops or scrap metal yards. Federal officials are working closely with local law enforcement, retail shops and scrap yards to identify the thieves.

Tampering with aids to navigation is a federal offense punishable by fines of up to $25,000 per day or up to one year in prison. Anyone providing information leading to a conviction may be eligible to receive up to half of the fine imposed by the court, the Coast Guard said.

Lt. Chellsey Phillips, a spokeswoman for the South Portland Coast Guard station, said six buoys have been targeted over the past six months.

Brass gongs and bells were removed from the Eagle Island gong buoy – located off Harpswell – and from the Porcupine Ledge bell buoy off Bar Harbor. The complete list of buoys targeted was not available Thursday.

“If a buoy doesn’t have all of its components, it can cause problems. These buoys play a vital role in making sure mariners have safe passage,” Phillips said.

Anyone with information regarding the missing signaling devices is urged to contact the Sector Northern New England command center at 767-0303.