Estonia, Finland want to investigate NewNew Polar Bear vessel in China

  • 2023-11-27
  • BNS/TBT Staff

TALLINN - Estonia and Finland want to send their representatives to China to investigate the main suspect of the damaging of the underwater infrastructure in the Gulf of Finland, the ship NewNew Polar Bear, the daily Postimees writes.

An initial positive signal from China is said to have been received, but in general the situation is still vague and the details still need to be negotiated. NewNew Polar Bear is currently en route from Arkhangelsk, Russia to the port of Tianjin, China and is expected to arrive at its destination on Nov. 29.

Estonia and Finland have achieved initial contact with China, but have not yet had the opportunity to carry out investigative actions, Kauri Sinkevicius, spokesperson for the prosecutor's office, said.

"As far as we know, the legal aid application has not yet been processed, but China can comment on the legal aid request processing more precisely at present," Sinkevicius said.

Postimees has previously sent an inquiry on this issue to the Chinese embassy, but has not received a response from them.

"We are in constant contact with China and are ready to send our own person there for further actions in cooperation with the Chinese authorities, which would contribute to the criminal investigation in Estonia," Liisa Toots, spokespeople for the Foreign Ministry, said.

On Oct. 8, damage was registered in the Balticconnector gas pipeline between Finland and Estonia, and an underwater communications cable was also damaged.

The damage to the Balticconnector gas pipeline between Estonia and Finland may have been caused by an anchor, as indicated by a drag trail found during investigations. The anchor, which weighed six tons, was lifted from the seabed on Tuesday, missing one of its flukes. 

In the course of the preliminary investigation conducted by the Finnish Central Criminal Police, it was determined that the navigational route of the Chinese container ship Newnew Polar Bear, registered under the Hong Kong flag, aligned with both the timing and location of the Balticconnector gas pipeline's damage. It also emerged that the ship is missing one of its anchors.

Likewise, the authorities of Estonia, Finland and Sweden have seen traces of an anchor being dragged between the damaged communication cables and the gas pipeline in the Gulf of Finland, which seems to prove that both the communication cables and the gas pipeline were damaged with the same anchor.

Last week, Defense Minister Hanno Pevkur told the Swedish public broadcaster that the incidents concerning Balticconnector and the two communications cables in the Gulf of Finland are connected.

"They have been destroyed by human hands, probably by an anchor. We have mapped and filmed the seabed and have a very good overview of what happened," Pevkur told SVT.

He added that if there is an anchor hanging loose for more than 100 nautical miles or 185 kilometers, then it is hard to believe that it was just an accident. 

"The captain understood that there was something wrong, so then the question we have to find an answer to is whether this was on purpose," the minister said.

The Estonian defense minister's conclusions were also confirmed by his Swedish colleague Pal Jonson. According to him, it is obvious -- based on the time, location and nature of the damage -- that all the infrastructure damage under investigation is coordinated.

Finnish sea captain Magnus Winberg believes that Pevkur's estimates of the length of the anchor drag marks are correct. An anchor can be dragged on the seabed for a long time without other nearby ships noticing it.

At the same time, according to Winberg, it is strange that an anchor dragged on the seabed for a long time breaks from the ship not when it comes into contact with larger stones or other harder obstacles, but instead with a gas pipe.

"If an anchor has been dragged along the bottom for hundreds of kilometers, it is a bit strange that it breaks right by the gas pipe. As a sailor, it is difficult to understand how such a thing is possible," he told Helsingin Sanomat.