French officials told the broadcaster that the ship was intercepted according to new European Union sanctions imposed on Russian entities and individuals after Vladimir Putin launched an invasion of Ukraine.
The ship, named ‘Baltic Leader’, had been stopped in Honfleur, in the Normandy region of northern France, and has been “escorted” to a port in Boulogne-Sur-Mer, the BBC added citing an official.
The 22-year-old vessel was scheduled to reach St Petersburg on 3 March, according to a cargo ship tracking website, after having set sail from Rouen, in Normandy.
An official told the BBC: “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.”
Captain Veronique Magnin, regional communication officer for the maritime prefecture, said the ship was diverted to Boulogne-sur-Mer between 3 and 4am local time on Saturday 26 February.
She said it appeared to be the first such action in the English Channel after the French government had given maritime officials the power to intercept vessels suspected of contravening the sanctions.
The customs officials’ investigation into whether the ship is linked to a sanctioned company could take up to 48 hours.
The Russian embassy in Paris is requesting that the French authorities explain why the ship was seized, according to Russian news agency RIA.
Sanctions have been imposed by the EU, the UK, Canada and the US on a number of Russian entities and individuals linked to the Kremlin, following Russia’s invasion of its neighbour on Thursday.
The sanctioned individuals include Russian president Vladimir Putin and foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.
Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova has dismissed the new sanctions by saying that “neither Putin nor Lavrov have accounts in Britain or anywhere abroad”.
EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said: “I am not in the secrets of Mr Lavrov and Mr Putin’s wealth and it is not my duty.