BOURNE, ENGLAND -- At the request of British government officials, an Anglican priest has exorcised what was believed by some to be a ghost that had taken over a 60-foot fishing vessel off the Yorkshire coast.

In September, Social Security officials investigated repeated claims for unemployment benefits from the six-man crew of the Pickering, which had not put to sea from its North Sea port for months.

Investigator William Buckley was told by skipper Derek Gates that as soon as the Pickering left harbor the ghost took over the steering mechanism, causing the ship to go round in circles. Coast Guard officers confirmed Gates' story, and Michael Laws, the previous captain, told investigators that "lights would flicker on and off and cabins remain freezing even when the heating was on maximum."

A crewman said he frequently saw a red-bearded stranger with a strange look on his face roaming the deck.

Social Security officers concluded that the fears expressed by the men were sufficient grounds for their receiving unemployment pay. A bureaucrat was then dispatched to the Archbishop of York to explain the problem and seek help.

The Rev. Tom Willis, the diocesan exorcist, visited the anchored trawler. After researching the ship's history he discovered that a man with a red beard had been washed overboard some years ago while the trawler was fishing off the Irish coast. The priest requested permission from the archbishop to carry out the rare service of exorcism.

Watched by the ship's owner and crew and a handful of onlookers, Willis sprinkled holy water from stem to stern, above and below deck, and recited the service from the old Book of Common Prayer, calling on the spirit to depart.

"Since then we have {had} no problems," Gates said. "We go out most nights and have been taking excellent catches."

Buckley, the Social Security investigator, said he wished "all suspect claims for unemployment benefit had such a happy outcome."