HELSINKI/VILNIUS (Reuters) – Finland’s National Bureau of Investigation said on Friday that the investigation into damage to the Balti Connector gas pipeline is currently focusing on the role of the Chinese container ship Newono Polar Bear.
Early on October 8, a gas pipeline and communications cable connecting Finland and Estonia were broken, in what Finnish investigators said may have been an act of sabotage, although they have not yet concluded whether it was an accident or a deliberate act.
Sweden said on Tuesday that the third link linking Stockholm to Tallinn was damaged at about the same time as the other two.
“The police established in the criminal investigation that the movements of the Hong Kong-flagged vessel NewNew Polar Bear coincided with the time and place of the gas pipeline damage,” the National Bureau of Investigation said in a statement.
“For this reason, the investigation is now focusing on the role of the aforementioned ship,” Finnish investigators added.
Following the Finnish National Bureau of Investigation’s statement, Estonian investigators, who are also investigating communications cable incidents, said they were still looking into two ships, the Russian New New Polar Bear and the Sevmorput.
“We have determined that during the incidents, the two ships, Nyonyo Polar Bear and Simorbut, were in the area. We are still investigating whether or not these two ships had anything to do with the damage,” they said in a statement to Reuters.
Only those two ships were present at all three accident sites at the approximate time the damage occurred, according to ship tracking data reviewed by Reuters.
The Finnish National Bureau of Investigation said a “heavy object” was found on the seabed near the damage to the pipeline, and it is being investigated whether this is linked to the incident.
“The investigation confirmed that the damage was caused by an external mechanical force, and based on current information there is no reason to believe that the damage was caused by an explosion,” Detective Inspector Risto Lohi said in the statement.
The National Bureau of Investigation said a “huge mass of soil” recently formed deep within the silty seabed was believed to contain an extremely heavy object, and was the subject of the investigation.
“Attempts will be made to raise the object from the sea for technical examination,” Lohi said.
NewNew Shipping, the owner and operator of NewNew Polar Bear, declined to comment when contacted by Reuters.
Separately, the Finnish Foreign Ministry said on Friday that it had contacted China and Russia through diplomatic channels regarding the investigation into damage to a pipeline and communications cable.
The Finnish Foreign Ministry said in a statement to Reuters that it had contacted China to request assistance in communicating with the new polar bear.
Regarding Russia, Finland contacted the Russian Foreign Ministry “to clarify the seriousness of the matter” and open an investigation.
A second telecommunications cable connecting Sweden and Estonia suffered a partial outage around the same time, which could also have been due to an external influence, Swedish and Estonian authorities said.
These incidents have raised concerns about the security of energy supplies in the wider Nordic region and prompted the NATO military alliance to intensify patrols in the Baltic Sea.
Russia’s Rosatom said the Sevmorbot ship was not linked to any of the damage to the pipeline.
“We categorically reject any unfounded suggestions that a ship operated by Rosatom may have been in any way linked to the Baltic Connector pipeline accident 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 sea traffic, without stopping or slowing down, and maintained an average speed of 14.5 knots. The crew did not observe or record anything unusual, suspicious or reportable in any way.” “
Reporting by Anne Curranen, additional reporting from newsrooms in Beijing and Moscow, writing by Terje Solsvik, editing by Gwladys Foch, Alex Richardson, Jonathan Oatis and Jane Merriman
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