Russian Cargo Ship Detained by France in the English Channel

A French navy officer look on from the French warship stealth frigate La Fayette during a mission in the oriental Mediterranean Sea, on October 26, 2020. - The stealth frigate La Fayette and its 170 crew members keep their eyes open and ears strained day and night in this highly …
THOMAS COEX/AFP via Getty Images

France intercepted and detained a Russian cargo ship in the English Channel in the early hours of Saturday morning, amid increasing tension between the West and Russia.

A 127-metre long ship flying the Russian flag named “Baltic Leader” was diverted by French border officials at around 2 am on Saturday morning as they were patrolling for illegal boat migrants in the English Channel off the coast of the Calais region, FranceBleu reported.

A spokeswoman for France’s Maritime Prefect office, Véronique Magnin told the Agence France-Presse news agency that the boat was “strongly suspected of being linked to Russian interests targeted by sanctions.”

According to Russian state media, the RIA news agency, the Russian embassy in France confirmed that a Russian commercial vessel has been detained by French Customs and that the embassy has contacted authorities in France for clarification.

“The embassy received an emergency call from the captain of a Russian bulk carrier, in which he reported the detention of the ship by the French authorities in the English Channel,” the embassy said.

Speaking to the BBC, an official in France said: “A 127 meters long Russia cargo ship called the ‘Baltic Leader’ transporting cars has been intercepted overnight by the French Navy in the Channel and escorted to the Port of Boulogne-Sur-Mer in Northern France.

“It has been taken to the French port after a request by the French government because it is suspected of belonging to a company targeted by EU sanctions against Moscow. French border forces are currently investigating the cargo ship. Crew aboard the ‘Baltic Leader’ has been cooperating with French authorities.”

The incident comes amid deteriorating relations between Europe and the Russian Federation, following Vladimir Putin’s decision to wage a “full-scale” invasion of Ukraine after years of simmering conflict in the Donbas region.

In response to the invasion, the European Union, of which France is a member state, has announced a swath of sanctions including personally targetting Putin and his Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Follow Kurt Zindulka on Twitter here @KurtZindulka

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