Hundreds fell for an April Fool's claim that a Titanic replica was to sail along the Sussex coast.

Council staff working on Brighton beach were inundated with calls asking when spectators could catch a glimpse of the ship passing by.

Seafront officer Richard Pearce said: "Brighton and Hove beaches were packed, which we couldn't understand at first because it was a fairly miserable morning.

"Then the phone calls started."

Portslade-based Southern FM told listeners yesterday morning that the ship would be visible from the coast as it sailed from Southampton towards Beachy Head before crossing over to France.

A spokesman for a spoof company said they had created the huge ship because of the success of the Hollywood film Titanic, starring Kate Winslett and Leonardo DiCaprio.

Within minutes, people starting phoning the seafront office wanting to know what time it was going to sail past. Within an hour all the parking spots in Madeira Drive were full.

Mr Pearce said: "There were lots of people hanging about, some with binoculars, looking out to sea.

"It was definitely more busy than it normally is at this time of year."

Seafront officers patrolling in the beach truck were also stopped by people wanting to see the Titanic replica.

Some callers apparently believed they were going to see the original doomed ship, which sank on its maiden voyage in the Atlantic after hitting an iceberg 89 years ago.

Mr Pearce said: "I don't know if they realised the Titanic was still on the bottom of the sea. We heard reports of hordes of people tramping over the fields near Eastbourne and Beachy Head to catch a glimpse."

He said: "I have never come across an April Fool joke which affected so many. The people we spoke to were convinced it was true."

Tony Aldridge of Southern FM who dreamed up the gag after watching a repeat of the film Titantic on TV, was amazed at the response.

He said: "I am amazed so many people fell for it. But there were signs such as a news report which said, 'You would be a fool if you can't see it'.

"I was listening to the radio while washing my car in Shoreham on Sunday and thinking, 'I wonder if anyone is going to fall for this".

"We kept it running as a news item until midday and then let on it was a gag. People were phoning up saying they could not see it, and then when we announced it was an April Fool's joke people phoned up to say what a great gag it was."

Dover Coastguard, however, did not see the funny side of the prank. A spokesman said the public could have been put at risk because the radio station said the best views were from Beachy Head.

A patrolling officer had found a 5ft crack in the cliffs yesterday, which could have put visitors at risk, and the area was immediately closed.

The spokesman said of the hoax: "We do not think this is very funny."