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A Chinese ship whose movement matched the time and location of the alleged sabotage of a pipeline between Finland and Estonia that was destroyed this month is the subject of the current inquiry, according to Finnish police.
The Baltic connector pipeline was shut down on October 8 due to a leak, and Finnish officials have been looking into the damage they claim was brought on by “external” activities.
“The damage seems to have been triggered by mechanical force, not an explosion,” said NBI head inspector Risto Lohi.
What Really Happened?
The Baltic connector pipeline (77 kilometers long) runs from the Finnish city of Inkoo to the Estonian port of Paldiski across the Gulf of Finland. It operates in both directions, moving natural gas between Finland and Estonia based on demand and supply.
The 300 million euro pipeline, which was mostly funded by the European Union, began commercial operations in early 2020. It was shut down on Sunday when operators detected a reduction in pipeline pressure.
The event occurred just over a year after explosions thought to be acts of sabotage damaged the Nord Stream gas pipelines between Germany and Russia in the Baltic Sea. The case is still unsolved.
Finland Police Investigation
The Finnish Police confirmed that the damage was caused by “an external mechanical force” and that a “heavy object” had been discovered near the damaged pipeline.
“A newly formed huge clump of soil harboring possibly an extremely heavy object has been found in the seabed,” Lohi said in a press release.
The police will attempt to retrieve the object from the seabed, where it is embedded in clay, to see if it is connected to the damaged pipeline. The samples are currently being examined in the bureau’s forensic library following the completion of its crime scene investigation into the damage to the gas pipeline on Thursday.
The Chinese and Russian Connection
The National Bureau of Investigation announced last week that it was looking into the Newnew Polarbear and a Russian ship called Sevmorput, both of which were in the vicinity at the time of the incident.
Finnish police declared on Friday that the Newnew Polar Bear, a cargo ship that purportedly became Chinese-owned this year, was their main concern. According to the Finnish broadcaster YLE, it was known as the Baltic Fulmar from 2017 to 2022.
“The operations of the vessel Newnew Polar Bear carrying the Hong Kong flag align with the time and place of the gas pipeline damage,” Finland’s National Bureau of Investigation stated.
“To establish the role of the said vessel, we will cooperate with Chinese authorities,” stated DS Risto Lohi.
Global Response on the Incident
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg stated that he had spoken with the leaders of Finland and Estonia about the most recent incident while in Brussels.
“The attack on NATO’s essential infrastructure would obviously be serious if it were shown to be intentional, but NATO would also respond with a coordinated and concerted effort”, according to Stoltenberg.
However, Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for the Kremlin, described the occurrence as “alarming news.”
“We know that there have been serious precedents of terrorist attacks against vital infrastructure in the Baltics—I mean, those that occurred against Nord Stream pipelines,” Peskov noted in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday.
Gasgrid Finland, the operator of the Finnish gas transmission system, predicted that the repairs would take at least five months. The company claimed that an Inkoo liquefied natural gas facility has the ability to supply Finland with the gas it requires.
About 5% of Finland’s energy is consumed by natural gas, which is mostly used in industrial and combined heat and power generation. Due to Russia’s interruption of the majority of gas supplies during the conflict in Ukraine, natural gas prices in Europe reached record highs last year. Since then, many European nations have opted for other alternatives, such as LNG, to meet their energy needs.
Currently, 97% of Europe’s winter gas storage capacity is occupied, but pipeline gas and LNG deliveries are necessary to ensure supply security.