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Tuesday, 18 July, 2000, 12:03 GMT 13:03 UK
Ship casts Franco-Russian ties adrift
Sedov
The Sedov was the star attraction at the Brest regatta
Russia has sharply criticised the French authorities for impounding a Russian sailing ship in a row over debts.

The four-masted Sedov - said to be the world's biggest sailing ship - has now left the port of Brest in western France, but the ship has been ordered to return there in time for another court hearing on Friday.

French naval officers are on board the ship to prevent it leaving French territorial waters.

The Sedov was seized last week by bailiffs acting on a court order obtained by the Swiss trading company Noga, which says Russia owes it $1.4bn.

'Violations'

The Russian Ambassador to Paris, Nikolai Afanasyevsky, has accused the French authorities of "incredible violations of the law".

In addition to seizing the ship, the French authorities also froze the bank accounts of Russian state-affiliated bodies in France, including the embassy.

Sedov crew
The Sedov has more than 100 students on board
Mr Afanasyevsky complained that, although Noga had asked for execution orders in several countries, "it is only in France that the judges and the bailiffs felt impelled to carry out this decision ... and that in conditions of doubtful legality".

He warned that the affair could create "a very serious incident".

The French Government meanwhile says it has to respect the independence of the judiciary.

Brief voyage

Officials at the Brest 2000 international sailing regatta, where the Sedov was the star attraction, persuaded a court on Saturday to grant a temporary dispensation. The ship was able to join the regatta on Sunday.

The French Foreign Ministry says it is following developments closely.

Noga says Russia broke a barter agreement reached in 1992.

The Sedov is based at the University of Murmansk in northern Russia, where officials say it cannot be counted as a Russian state asset.

The 117.5-metre (388-foot) ship was built in Germany in 1921 and was used before World War II to rush imports of grain from Australia to Europe.

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