Finnish investigators have accused a Chinese ship of deliberately damaging an undersea gas pipeline between Finland and Estonia. The incident, which occurred on October 8, also resulted in the damage of two undersea telecommunications cables. The Balticconnector pipeline, a crucial 94-mile-long infrastructure, connects Finland’s national gas grid with a significant underground gas storage facility in Latvia.
Upon noticing a sudden decline in pipeline pressure, engineers shut down the pipeline and launched an investigation. Investigators swiftly concluded that the pipeline and undersea cables were not damaged by explosions but rather likely by deliberate human action. The damage to the telecommunications line was discovered simultaneously with the gas line damage, while the second damaged cable was found later.
Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo remarked that the pipeline damage could not have occurred through normal use or pressure fluctuations, which has raised concerns about the safety of European infrastructure against potential sabotage amidst growing tension between Russia and the West. The suspicion initially fell on Russia, given their previous cut-off of natural gas supplies to Finland in May 2022 as a response to Finland’s desire to join NATO.
However, the investigation has taken an unexpected twist. Finland’s National Bureau of Investigation announced that they had retrieved a large anchor from the seabed, indicating that it had been in contact with the Balticconnector pipeline. The police believe that the damage was caused by a Chinese ship named Newnew Polar Bear, owned by a Chinese shipping company under the Hong Kong flag, which happened to be in the area during the incident.
The Chinese ship Newnew Polar Bear has been seen in the Port of Arkhangelsk with its anchor missing.
Finnish investigators suspects it lost the anchor by dragging it into the Balticconnector, causing damages to the Finnish-Estonian gas pipeline that will take 6 months to repair pic.twitter.com/nL3xAOjCPs
— Visegrád 24 (@visegrad24) October 24, 2023
The Newnew Polar Bear is specifically designed for operating in icy waters and had just completed its first round-trip voyage from Russia to China. Adding to suspicions, the ship turned off its Automatic Identification System (AIS) the night of the incident, and its captain is refusing to cooperate with investigators. Furthermore, China is demanding to be involved in the investigation. It appears that a Chinese-flagged ship en route to a Russian port purposefully turned off its identification signal and dragged its anchor to damage the Balticconnector and the two telecommunications cables.
This is a concerning incident that highlights the potential vulnerability of crucial European infrastructure. It is crucial for Finland, Estonia, and other European countries to ensure the safety and security of their essential energy grids and telecommunications systems. In light of China’s increasing assertiveness and Russia’s demonstrated willingness to disrupt energy supplies, precautionary measures must be taken to safeguard against potential sabotage.