By Anne Kauranen, Reuters
The investigation into the damage to the Balticonnector gas pipeline is now focused on the role of the Chinese Newnew Polar Bear container vessel, Finland’s National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) said on Friday.
Early on Oct. 8, a gas pipeline and a telecoms cable connecting Finland and Estonia were broken, in what Finnish investigators say may have been sabotage, though they have yet to conclude whether it was an accident or a deliberate act.
“The police have established in the criminal investigation that the movements of the vessel NewNew Polar Bear flying the flag of Hong Kong coincide with the time and place of the gas pipeline damage,” NBI said in a statement.
“For this reason, the investigation is now focused on the role of the said vessel,” the investigators added.
The NBI said “a heavy object” was found on the seabed near the pipeline damage and were investigating whether this was linked to the incident.
“The investigation has confirmed that the damage has been caused by an external mechanical force, and based on current knowledge there is no reason to believe the damage has been caused by an explosion,” Detective Superintendent Risto Lohi said in the statement.
A recently formed “huge clump of soil” deep in the clay seabed was believed to contain an extremely heavy object, and was the subject of investigation, the NBI said.
“Attempts will be made to lift the object from the sea for technical examination,” Lohi said.
NewNew Shipping, the owner and operator of the NewNew Polar Bear, declined to comment when contacted by Reuters.
Separately, Finland’s foreign ministry said on Friday it had contacted China and Russia via diplomatic channels regarding the investigation of damage to a pipeline and a telecoms cable.
The Finnish foreign ministry, in a statement to Reuters said it had contacted China to seek help to get in touch with the NewNew Polar Bear.
Regarding Russia, Finland contacted the Russian foreign ministry “stating the seriousness of the matter” and that an investigation had been launched.
A second telecoms cable, linking Sweden and Estonia, suffered a partial outage at around the same time, which may also have been caused by outside influence, Swedish and Estonian authorities have said.
The incidents have stoked concerns about the security of energy supplies in the wider Nordic region and prompted the NATO military alliance to ramp up patrols in the Baltic Sea.
Investigators on Tuesday named the NewNew Polar Bear, which travels between China and Europe via the Arctic, and the Sevmorput, a Russian nuclear-powered cargo vessel transiting between Murmansk and St. Petersburg.
Russia’s Rosatom said the Sevmorput had no link to any of the pipeline damage.
“We categorically reject as groundless any suggestions that a Rosatom-operated ship may have been in any way connected to the Balticconnector pipeline incident in the Gulf of Finland on October 8,” Rosatom said in a statement to Reuters.
“It passed through the Gulf of Finland, an area of intense maritime traffic, without stopping or slowing down, maintaining an average speed of 14.5 knots. The crew did not observe or record anything unusual, suspicious, or otherwise reportable.”
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