MOSCOW/PARIS, August 15 (RIA Novosti) - The tracking device aboard the Russian-crewed Arctic Sea, missing since late July, was briefly reactivated on Saturday showing the vessel to be located off France, a Russian maritime journal said.
Sovfrakht said the cargo ship was in the Atlantic's Bay of Biscay near France's La Rochelle port, citing data from the tracking device as of 12:30 Moscow time (08:30 GMT), but later added the signal had disappeared within an hour.
France's Navy officials, however, rejected the report saying the vessel was not in the area.
"I strongly reject the report and so does, I think, Spain," French marine spokesman Capt. Jerome Baroe said. "Data from a [naval] operational center in Brest unequivocally shows that the Arctic Sea is not in the Bay of Biscay."
He said the signal emitted by the Automatic Identification System had come from three Russian warships heading from the Mediterranean to the Baltic Sea. They have notified French authorities that they will pass off Brittany tonight, Baroe said.
The conflicting reports continued to fuel the mystery surrounding the Maltese-flagged freighter carrying timber and crewed by 15 Russian sailors. It set off from Finland on July 23 and was due to arrive at the Algerian port of Bejaia on August 4.
Speaking live on Russia's Vesti channel, the Sovfrakht chief editor said ships all have unique tracking device signals.
"The signal is unique and cannot belong to any other vessel," Mikhail Voitenko said, admitting however that the device could have been installed on a different ship for a number of reasons.
Voitenko also suggested the ship's signal may have been lost as the vessel passed through an area of poor reception.
He said coastguards in nearby countries - Spain, France and Britain - and vessels closest to where the signal was last detected needed to be contacted and the surrounding area monitored for future signals.
The ship last made radio contact with British coastguards on July 28. According to Interpol the ship was briefly seized in Swedish waters of the Baltic Sea by masked men claiming to be police on July 24. Reports state that after 12 hours the men left the ship and the Arctic Sea resumed its voyage.
Some media have speculated the ship could have been targeted because it was carrying an "unknown cargo" in addition to timber. The ship operator has called the reports "rubbish."
The Russian Navy launched the search for the Arctic Sea on the instructions of the country's president on Wednesday. The frigate Ladny was heading toward Cape Verde in the western Atlantic on Friday, according to the Russian ambassador in the former Portuguese colony.
Capt. Baroe said on Saturday he was virtually convinced that the missing vessel was now off Cape Verde
The head of the signal station des Baleines in the area, which contacts vessels off La Rochelle, said they had "no information" confirming the Sovfrakht report.