China ship is focus of pipeline damage probe, Finland says

Director Robin Lardot of the National Bureau of Investigation NBI of Finland attends a press conferance in Vantaa, Finland, Wednesday Oct. 11, 2023. NBI is investigating the Batic connector gas pipeline leak and adjacent data cable damage because of “external activity”. (Jussi Nukari/Lehtikuva via AP)

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.

In this picture provided by The Finnish Border Guard, Finnish Border Guard’s offshore vessel Turva on patrol at sea, Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023 near the place where damaged Balticconnector gas pipeline is pinpointed at the Gulf of Finland. Finnish and Estonian gas system operators on Sunday said they noted an unusual drop in pressure in the Balticconnector pipeline after which they shut down the gas flow. The Finnish government on Tuesday said there was damage both to the gas pipeline and to a telecommunications cable between the two NATO countries. (Finnish Border Guard/Lehtikuva via AP)

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.”

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: CSIS warning Inuit leaders about covert foreign investment in Arctic, documents show, CBC News

China: Satellite imagery reveals construction progress on new Chinese Antarctic base, Eye on the Arctic

Denmark: Danish policy prioritizes low-conflict Arctic amidst Russian tensions, Eye on the Arctic

Iceland: Nordics should aim for common approach to China’s Arctic involvement says report, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Svalbard’s travails in a changing Arctic, Blog by Marc Lanteigne

Russia: Putin tells Xi: We will connect Kola Bay with Persian Gulf, The Independent Barents Observer

United Kingdom: Russia’s growing dependence on China altering dynamics in Arctic, UK committee hears, Eye on the Arctic

United States: Russian, Chinese vessels near Alaska reminder of ‘new era of aggression’: Senators, Eye on the Arctic

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