The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has provided updates on the investigation into the damage to the gas pipeline. Based on evidence and data, the Hong Kong-flagged vessel, Newnew Polar Bear, is believed to be responsible for the damage.
The Finnish police believe the ship's anchor was dislodged and damaged the pipeline, which runs between Finland and Estonia. This suspicion arose after a significant drop in pipeline pressure was detected on October 8, leading to the discovery that the pipeline had been mechanically damaged and had shifted from its original seabed position.
During a press conference, Detective Superintendent Risto Lohi of the NBI detailed the findings. On the seabed, a dragging trail between 1.5 to 4 meters wide leads to the damaged section of the pipeline. Close to the damage site, an anchor was found, believed to have caused the trail and the damage. This anchor, lifted earlier in the day, showed signs of contact with the pipeline.
Following the anchor's location, a narrower dragging trace was observed, consistent with the part of the anchor chain.
Speculations, suspicions, and the role of NewNew Polar Bear
There had been initial speculation in Finland that Russia might have intentionally damaged the pipeline in response to Finland's recent NATO membership. However, the NewNew Polar Bear became the primary suspect when its movements matched the time and location of the pipeline damage.
Recent social media photos of the ship, which had docked in St. Petersburg, Russia, show it missing an anchor. The ship is currently en route to China via the Northern Sea Route.
These findings, combined with vessel traffic data, support the primary suspicion that the Newnew Polar Bear, belonging to a Chinese shipping company, played a role in the incident. Additionally, visual checks revealed that the vessel was missing one of its front anchors, further directing suspicion towards it.
International cooperation and broader impacts
Regarding international cooperation, Lohi mentioned that while they tried contacting the Newnew Polar Bear multiple times, there was no cooperation from the vessel. The police couldn't take forceful actions against the ship as it was in Finland's exclusive economic zone, which is beyond their jurisdiction. However, they were prepared to act if the vessel entered Finnish territorial waters.
Efforts are ongoing, in collaboration with Chinese authorities, to further investigate the vessel's involvement.
Lohi emphasized that the investigation will also focus on determining if there was any intent or negligence behind the incident. He noted that international legal processes can take several weeks.
The BalticConnector pipeline, which began commercial operations in 2020, is expected to be under repair until at least April 2024.
Additionally, a telecom cable between Finland-Estonia and Sweden-Estonia was damaged concurrently with the pipeline, and Finnish authorities believe this damage is also linked to the Chinese vessel.
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