Florida man riding human-sized hamster wheel in Atlantic Ocean faces federal charges

MIAMI (AP) — A Florida man who was attempting to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a man-made hamster wheel is facing federal charges after it took the U.S. Coast Guard five days to bring him ashore, according to a criminal complaint filed in Miami.

The Coast Guard spotted Reza Ray Baluchi, 51, some 70 miles (112 kilometers) off the coast of Tybee Island, Georgia, on Aug. 26, while making preparations for Hurricane Franklin, the complaint, filed in federal court, said. Baluchi was charged Tuesday with obstruction of boarding and violation of a captain of the port order.

Baluchi told the Coast Guard crew that he was attempting to ride the “hydro-pod” vessel to England, and that he had a Florida registration, which he unable to locate for them, onboard.

The officers said the vessel was “afloat as a result of wiring and buoys” and determined that Baluchi was conducting “a manifestly unsafe voyage,” the complaint said.

When they attempted to get him to leave the vessel, Baluchi told them he had a knife and threatened to harm himself, Coast Guard Special Agent Michael A. Perez wrote in the complaint.

The next day, Baluchi threatened to blow himself up when the Coast Guard approached him again about leaving the vessel, Perez wrote.

When officers saw Baluchi holding wires they contacted the U.S. Navy Explosive Ordinance Disposal Unit to help them determine the blast radius of the bomb, Perez wrote.

On Aug. 28, the Coast Guard cutters Campbell and Valiant arrived on scene to offer support, and they launched a small boat to deliver food and water and to give Baluchi predictions of the hurricane, the report said.

They again ordered Baluchi off the vessel and he refused. But he told them that the bomb was not real, Perez wrote.

On Aug. 29, the Coast Guard successfully removed Baluchi from the vessel. And on Sept. 1, he was brought to the Coast Guard base in Miami Beach.

Baluchi attempted a voyage in a similar homemade vessel in 2014, the complaint said. In 2015, he was served a captain of the port order from the Coast Guard that applied to any subsequent voyages. Baluchi failed to comply with the order and was interdicted in a homemade vessel in 2016. He attempted another voyage in 2021, and the Coast Guard intervened then as well.

His attorney, Micki Bloom, did not immediately respond Thursday to an email from The Associated Press.

Court records show Baluchi posted a $250,000 bond.

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