Prank just a bit of armless fun

Did you hear the one about the Russian sailor who lost his arm at sea?

Now you can, after a transcript was released under the Official Information Act, revealing how a Ministry of Fisheries observer's April Fool's Day prank almost sparked a full-scale search and rescue operation last month.

Aboard a trawler in subantarctic waters, the observer decided to play a prank on his superiors by faxing the following message on March 31: "Me again. We had a rather gruesome catch in tonight's shot. The remains of a human arm. It has been taken off below the elbow and it is not a clean cut. Yuk. It hasn't been in the water for very long, and I was wondering if any of the Russian boats has had an accident. The captain has been on the radio to the Korean vessels and none of them have had any accidents, so I'm guessing it's off a Russian. It is in the hold with the birds so let me know what you want me to do with it. Cheers."

At 10.09am on April 1, the ministry emailed a message to the vessel informing them "we are working with the appropriate people as we speak" - and requested more information regarding the gruesome discovery.

The ministry also informed police, who were preparing a full-scale search and rescue operation to the Auckland Islands, almost 500km south of Bluff.

Realising his message was being treated seriously, the man faxed back an apology for "my ill-advised April Fool's prank".

"Had I thought it would have been taken seriously I would never have done it."

As part of his apology, the man revealed he played "the same joke" on a former Ministry of Fisheries employee five years ago.

Informed of the hoax, the police gave the man a warning when the vessel docked at Lyttelton on April 7, with the ministry taking staff disciplinary action against the observer.



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