Newnew Polar Bear
The Newnew Polar Bear, then known as the Baltic Fulmar, outside Rotterdam, the Netherlands, in 2020. Image: Wikimedia Commons / Alf van Beem

Finland says Chinese ship to blame for subsea pipeline break

A Chinese ship is to blame for the damage to a subsea gas pipeline running between Finland and Estonia earlier this month, Finnish police announced on Tuesday, leaving open whether the damage was intentional or accidental.

Along with a telecommunications cable, the pipeline was damaged in what the office of Sauli Niinistö, the president of Finland, then said was likely the result of “external activity.”

The 77 km (48 miles) Balticconnector gas pipeline only entered into operation in 2020 to connect the Estonian and Finnish gas grids. It was shut when network operators spotted an unusual drop in pressure in the early morning of October 8, although no explosion was detected by regional seismologists.

Due to the pipeline’s relative youth, the Finnish network operator Gasgrid Finland said a hole in the pipe was the only reasonable expectation for a drop in the pressure. Gasgrid warned the damage could take months or more to repair.

According to the Tuesday announcement, the Finnish investigation into the damage found a dragging trail on the seabed leading to the point of damage in the gas pipeline. The damage to the cable was not detailed.

“In the distance of a few metres from the gas pipeline damage point, there was an anchor which is believed to have caused the wide dragging trail and the damage itself,” the authorities disclosed.

Risto Lohi, the detective superintendent heading the investigation, said that when the anchor was lifted from the seabed this morning analysts found traces on it indicating it had been in contact with the gas pipeline.

These observations were said to corroborate the main line of investigation from the authorities that were focusing on the role of a vessel called Newnew Polar Bear, owned by a Chinese shipping company and flying a Hong Kong flag.

Lohi said that officials could not visually confirm that both of the Newnew Polar Bear’s front anchors were in their place, something which “helped in focusing the suspicions on this particular ship.”

The Finnish police said they had contacted the ship several times while it transited Finland’s exclusive economic zone but not Finnish territorial waters.

Despite these contacts, the ship did not cooperate, said Lohi, who said the police had no competence to take coercive measures against the vessel. Finnish authorities are now engaging with their counterparts in China to continue their investigation.

“Particular attention will be paid to investigating if there has been any premeditation or negligence involved in the sequence of events,” warned the police statement.

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Alexander Martin

Alexander Martin

is the UK Editor for Recorded Future News. He was previously a technology reporter for Sky News and is also a fellow at the European Cyber Conflict Research Initiative.