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A man tried to sail an improvised boat, made out of a Citroen car mounted on wooden barrels for floats, into the Mediterranean Sea Saturday night, but was found and taken to shore by the police unharmed.

"I've been at sea for 30 years, and I've never seen such a thing before," said Superintendent David Revivo, the head of the Tel Aviv Naval Police.

The owner of the vessel, Michael Haimasky, 40, of Holon, was arrested on suspicion of sailing an illegal vessel and attempting to leave the country illegally, but was released after questioning.

Police learned about Haimasky's attempt when they received a phone call Saturday night from someone who said that a friend of his had just set sail for Turkey in a vessel that he had constructed himself.

"As soon as we received the call, we went to sea and began examining the vessels," said Revivo. "The search wasn't easy because it was a moonless night, and we searched carefully lest the vessel was traveling without lights."

A few hours later, they discovered the object of their search several kilometers west of Bat Yam. "I don't even have words to describe what we saw," said Revivo. "When we approached, we saw a car floating on the water. Only upon examination did we realize that the car had been mounted on floats, and instead of wheels, it had propellers." The vessel even had a name painted on it - Princess of Giriatry (sic).

Police towed the vessel to land and searched it, finding large quantities of food, water and fuel, as well as Haimasky's dog. But when questioned, Haimasky - a divorced locksmith with one son and no criminal record - insisted that he had not intended to go abroad; he was merely taking the vessel he had built out for a test sail, he said.

Police said that the vessel would not have gone far. "When we found him, his motor had stopped working, so he would not have been able to stay afloat much longer," said Revivo. "But beyond that, his actions could have caused a serious naval accident, since he was traveling without lights and with no identification. And above all, in Israel, every unidentified object floating on the water that doesn't respond to radio constitutes a target."

Haimasky told his interrogators that he had telephoned a friend and had asked him to notify the police about his venture as soon as he realized that his motor had died.

Police are expected to decide in the next few days whether to indict Haimasky for his enterprise.