A 20ft-long torpedo was discovered floating close to a busy cross-Channel shipping lane, lifeboat officials said today.

Fisherman Peter Storey was on board his vessel, the Royal Sovereign, when he spotted the Mark 9 torpedo five miles off Beachy Head, near Eastbourne.

Officials at Dover Coastguard were alerted late yesterday afternoon amid concerns about its position just a few miles from the Newhaven to Dieppe ferry route.

Realising it was a potential explosive which posed a hazard to navigation, Mr Storey took pictures of the torpedo on his mobile phone.

The images were then sent to the Coastguard and passed to the Royal Navy's bomb disposal team based at Portsmouth, Hampshire.

It emerged that the device's explosive charge had corroded off, rendering it safe.

Mr Storey placed the torpedo under tow and brought it closer to shore before anchoring his boat around half a mile off Sovereign Harbour in Eastbourne.

Bomb disposal experts arrived at around 7am this morning to confirm it posed no risk and it was later brought in by them to the harbour.

Eastbourne RNLI coxswain Mark Sawyer said it was confirmed as a British Mk 9 device which had a stamp stating it was last checked and tested in 1955.

Mr Sawyer said: "The main concern of the fisherman was that it was close to the Newhaven-Dieppe ferry route. He was worried it could go off and posed a hazard to navigation.

"He realised it was some sort of explosive but it was found that the explosive charge had corroded off and the rest of it had floated to the surface.

"The bomb disposal team arrived at first light this morning and, once it was declared safe, brought it into Sovereign Harbour, and it now belongs to me.

"The bomb disposal team believe it was some sort of training torpedo. The people at Sovereign Harbour were quite keen to stress that it was safe when it was brought in."

A spokesman for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) confirmed that the barnacle-covered torpedo was free from explosives and it was believed to have come from a wreck.