"Chirac orders toxic ship back, French president clears the air ahead of his India visit," read the headline on the front page of the Times of India, the country's leading daily, on Thursday.

 

The Hindu newspaper said in its report: "The announcement has saved both Paris and New Delhi a degree of embarrassment since Mr Chirac is to begin a 24-hour state visit to India on Sunday."

 

Chirac's decision on Wednesday marked a big win for environmentalists in both countries, who argued that sending the decommissioned warship Clemenceau to India for scrapping posed a serious environmental and health hazard.

  

The president's announcement came after France's highest administrative court ordered the ship's transfer to be called off in response to legal action by Greenpeace and three anti-asbestos groups.

 

The ship, which was to be dismantled at the world's biggest ship-breaking yard, Alang, in the western state of Gujarat, is moored beyond India's territorial waters.

  

Most sea-going ships end their service at shipyards in India, Bangladesh, China and Pakistan, where activists say they are cut up by unprotected workers, taking a grim toll on human health and the environment.

  

Although stripped of part of its cancer-causing asbestos, the ship still contained 45 tonnes, according to the French government, and 500 to 1000 tonnes, according to a firm that helped in its initial decontamination.