Finnish authorities say they’re investigating a Hong Kong-flagged vessel in connection with this month’s suspected sabotage of a gas pipeline and data cable in the Gulf of Finland.
Here’s what happened.
On 8 October, authorities registered a leak in the 77km Balticconnector gas pipeline between Finland and Estonia. It now remains offline for months of repairs, leaving Finland to rely on LNG shipments instead.
Finnish authorities say they believe the damage was caused by “an external mechanical force”, and they’re looking into two vessels that were in the pipeline’s vicinity that night:
- 🇨🇳 The NewNew Polar Bear*, a Chinese cargo ship travelling between Russia and China, whose movements “coincide with the time and place of the gas pipeline damage”, and
- 🇷🇺 The Sevmorput, one of Russia’s four nuclear-powered merchant ships, now operated by a Russian state-owned energy company.
And of course, there’s a less intriguing possibility: a rogue anchor might’ve caused this, accidentally or otherwise. It’d fit reports that an object (not a blast) was at fault, and that an “extremely heavy object” was found nearby.
Intrigue’s take: It’d be surprising for China to have played a deliberate role in an incident so far from its turf, particularly using a ship that the world was already watching so closely (the NewNew Polar Bear just became the first regular vessel to reach Kaliningrad via the Northern Sea Route).
Either way, this whole saga reminds us of five things:
- First, undersea infrastructure is more critical today than ever
- Second, it’s also more vulnerable than ever
- Third, grey zone tactics are becoming more common (i.e., inflicting damage without crossing the threshold of armed conflict)
- Fourth, this all makes attribution both high-stakes and hard, and
- Fifth, this all in turn makes the democratic preference for transparent investigations one heck of a delicate balancing act.
Also worth noting:
- Russia has expressed dissatisfaction numerous times at Finland’s recent NATO accession.
- Natural gas accounts for around 8% of Finland’s energy needs.
- * The NewNew Polar Bear isn’t new (it was built in 2005).
- Sweden said yesterday (Monday) it’s treating the parallel damage to the Estonia-Sweden communications cable as a related incident.