Balticconnector damage probe puts Chinese vessel under investigation

The investigation into the damage to the Balticonnector gas pipeline between Finland and Estonia is now focused on the role of the Hong Kong-flagged NewNew Polar Bear container vessel, Finland’s National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) said.

The Finnish police have established in the criminal investigation that the movements of Newnew Polar Bear coincide with the time and place of the gas pipeline damage announced after an abnormal pressure drop was observed on October 8.

According to NBI, the police will examine further the background and movements of the vessel as a part of the criminal investigation with the assistance of international partners. 

“We will cooperate with Chinese authorities in order to establish the role of the said vessel. The Finnish Police also have a liaison officer in China who can handle the matter on the site,” said General Head of Investigation, Detective Superintendent Risto Lohi.

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The NBI noted that a heavy object had been found in the vicinity of the gas pipeline damage and it is currently being examined if it has any connection to the damage.

According to the NBI, the object lies deep down in clay seabed and no conclusion can be reached thus far of its nature.

“The investigation has confirmed that the damage has been caused by an external mechanical force, and based on current knowledge there is no reason to believe the damage has been caused by an explosion,” Lohi stated.

“A recently formed huge clump of soil containing probably an extremely heavy object has been found in the seabed. We investigate now what the object is and if it is connected to the damage of the pipeline. Attempts will be made to lift the object from the sea for technical examination.”

The NBI reported on October 19 that the scene investigation into the damaged gas pipeline had been completed and the collected samples were submitted for forensic examination to the National Bureau of Investigation Forensic Laboratory.

Balticconnector is the first gas pipeline between Finland and Estonia. The project, which entered into commercial use at the start of 2020, ends Finland’s isolation from the EU gas market and helps ensure the energy security of supply in the region. 

The 152-kilometer-long gas pipeline is bi-directional and has a transmission capacity of 7.2 million cubic meters of gas per day.

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Seismic signals have been recorded in the vicinity of the Balticconnector gas pipeline indicating a possible explosion had occurred around the time the drop in pressure was observed.

The event was located approximately 40 kilometers north of Paldiski, Estonia, close to where the Balticconnector pipeline crosses the Nord Stream 1 pipeline.