Russia was not behind the damage to the Balticconnector pipeline that happened on Oct. 8, Finnish researchers concluded, having determined that the incident occurred when a Chinese commercial vessel dragged its anchor across the underwater pipeline.
A sudden drop in pressure in the pipeline prompted the operators to cease operations. The incident echoed the sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines last September, which connected Germany with Russian natural gas.
On top of that, the research team concluded no explosion had taken place, but some eternal mechanical factor. Officials are more reluctant to draw conclusions in Estonia, which lies across the Baltic Sea from Finland and is a neighbor of Russia.
Since Oct. 8, security authorities from Finland and Estonia have investigated damage to the bi-directional Baltic Sea gas pipeline Balticconnector that connects the two Nordic countries since 2020. An underwater telecommunications cable connecting the two countries was also damaged.
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The cable is expected to be functional again shortly, but the gas pipeline could take some time to repair. The operator assumes at least five months.
Early on, speculation circulated that Russia could be involved in the incident — as a retaliation for the sabotage of Nord Stream, which both Moscow and the West blame each other for. The Kremlin immediately rejected this.
According to a report in Der Spiegel, NATO felt compelled to carry out increased patrols in the Baltic Sea. In addition, there were additional surveillance and reconnaissance flights. In the event of an act of sabotage, the alliance had promised a “decisive response.” The Finnish secret service considered “the involvement of a state as a perpetrator” possible.
The Balticconnector gas pipeline has been in operation since 2020. It connects the Estonian and Finnish gas grids and provides Finland access to the Inčukalns underground gas storage facility in Latvia. The 77-kilometer link between Finland and Estonia cost 300 million euros. It can be used in both directions. After cutting off Russian gas in May 2022, Balticconnector became Finland’s sole source of natural gas.
Damage caused by Chinese anchor
However, as the German paper “Tagesschau” reports, investigators assume that human activity caused damage to the infrastructure facilities.
As time went on, evidence pointed to the damage being caused by a Chinese container ship inadvertently dragging its anchor over the pipeline while transiting the area.
The Finnish National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has already stated that it is concentrating on the Chinese container ship that sails under the flag of Hong Kong, “Newnew Polar Bear,” whose movements in the Baltic Sea on the day of the accident could be reconciled with the time and place of the damage, the detectives said.
The operator of the container ship, Newnew Shipping, has refrained from public commenting so far.
Finnish investigators also speak of a “heavy object” on the seabed that could be linked to the damage to the Balticconnector natural gas pipeline.
According to the NBI, an “external mechanical force” was assumed to cause the damage, adding that, according to the current state of knowledge, there is “no reason to assume that an explosion caused the damage.”
It is also still unclear whether the damage could have been caused intentionally to damage critical infrastructure.