THE world's largest tallship has been stopped from coming to Southend Pier...because of deteriorating political relations between Downing Street and Russia.

The Russian tallship, the Sedov, was due at the pier at noon yesterday, but failed to arrive because the authorities in Moscow banned the ship from docking at UK ports.

Instead, a Dutch three-masted tall ship called the Artermis will be arriving at Southend tomorrow for a three-day visit offering visitors the opportunity of a sailing trip.

Wilf Lower, European maritime events manager, who organised the visit of the Sedov, said he believed worsening relations between the UK and Moscow was to blame, because of rows about extradition arrangements.

He said: "We believe it was political. The Russian Federation issued a statement saying Britain wasn't suitable for visits by Russian vessels. I believe they have cancelled a number of events because of disagreements over extradition."

Southend Council, which promoted the visit, has given assurances that those who bought tickets to board the Sedov will be able to use them for the Artemis.

But Peter Strange, 80, from Southend, was disappointed to hear the Sedov was not coming after he paid £150 for his son and two grandsons to go on the trip.

Mr Strange who has been offered a refund or tickets for the Artemis, said: "I was told the Russian ship wasn't coming. I'm very disappointed as I was looking forward to taking my grandsons on board the world's largest tall ship. We will still go so they have the pleasure of sailing down the Thames."

The Artemis is one of the last traditional whalers, the 200ft long vessel's visit is a real coup for Southend.

Anita Thornberry, Southend Council's head of enterprise, tourism and regeneration, said: "This is a great opportunity for visitors to journey on and view the Artemis as it is the first time the beautiful vessel has ever docked in Southend."

The Artemis will be open to the public to view free of charge until late afternoon on Monday, May 5 when she will be departing for Hamburg.

She will be providing sailing trips originally booked by people to go on the Sedov, with a choice of sailing times.

ICY relations between the Kremlin and Downing Street followed the death in London of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, in November 2006 from polonium poisoning.

Litvinenko's allegations about the misdeeds of the Russia's Security Services and his public deathbed accusations Vladimir Putin's government was behind the poisoning resulted in worldwide coverage.

The main suspect is Russian agent Andrei Lugovoy, who remains in Russia despite the British Government's attempts to extradite him.