Newnew Polar Bear exits Arctic waters, sails into Pacific

A file image of the Finnish Border Guard’s photo of the Hong Kong -registered cargo ship ‘Newnew Polar Bear’, which was spotted moving close to the Balticconnector gas line. (Heikki Saukkomaa / Lehtikuva /AFP via Getty Images)

The ship suspected of sabotage against underwater infrastructure in the Baltic Sea is sailing into the Pacific Ocean following its voyage through Russian Arctic waters.

According to ship tracking information from the General Administration of the Northern Sea Route, the 169 meter long Newnew Polar Bear on Friday the 3rd of November sailed thought the East Siberian Sea.

Three days later, it made it through the Bering Strait and into the waters that separate Russia’s Chukchi Peninsula with America’s Alaska. The container ship on the 6th of November sailed southwards in the Bering Sea and is likely to make port call in one of Russia’s Pacific ports in the course of the next few days.

Judging from a photo shared by nuclear power company Rosatom on social media VK, the vessel is fully loaded with shipping containers.

For much of the voyage across the Northern Sea Route, Newnew Polar Bear sailed in convoy with nuclear powered icebreaker 50 Let Pobedy and cargo vessels Pola Dudinka and Tersky Bereg.

The Arctic voyage took place as the far northern waters are rapid process of freezing. According to Rosatom, the voyage of the Newnew Polar Bear was this year’s last eastbound convoy on the sea route.

The Newnew Polar Bear set out from Arkhangelsk on the 25th of October. Before that, the ship was involved in a range of suspicious activity.

Two communications cables damaged

According to the Finnish National Bureau of Investigation, available data and evidence clearly indicates that the ship is to blame for the damage to the Balticconnector gas pipeline inflicted on the 8th of October. In a press conference, General Head of Investigation Detective Superintendent Risto Lohi described how a 1,5 to 4 metre-wide dragging trail is seen leading to the point of damage of the pipeline.

The ship might also have been involved in the damaging of two communications cables. On the 19th of October, the Swedish Government informed that the damage to a communications cable between Sweden and Estonia appears to have occurred in close connection to incidents with the Finnish-Estonian gas pipeline and a Finnish-Estonian communications cable.

The involved countries have started an investigation and security in the Baltic Sea has been strengthened.

Finnish authorities make clear that they would have arrested the ship in October had it not been in international waters.

The Newnew Polar Bear sails under the flag of Hong Kong, but is connected with Russia. A sailing permission issued by the General Administration of the Northern Sea Route is addressed to Torgmoll, a Russian-registered company  with offices in Moscow and Shanghai.

Shortly before setting out from Arkhangelsk on the 25th of October, the shipowners got an updated sailing permission for the Northern Sea Route. While a previous permission allowed sailing on the remote and icy Arctic route only until the 31st of October, the new permission lasts until the 15th of November.

Shipping data show that the Newnew Polar Bear left the far east Russian port of Petropavlovsk on the 14th of September and that it on the 3rd of October made port call in Kaliningrad. Three days later it arrived in the nearby naval base of Baltiisk. The ship subsequently sailed to St.Petersburg where it arrived on the 8th of October, the same day as the gas pipeline is reported to have been damaged. On October the 13th, the ship was back in Kaliningrad. It departed on the same day and arrived in Arkhangelsk on the 21st of October.

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

Atle Staalesen, The Independent Barents Observer

For more news from the Barents region visit The Independent Barents Observer.

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