OSLO, Oct 20 – New data indicates that a Chinese container ship, the NewNew Polar Bear, and a Russian-flagged vessel, the Sevmorput, were present near the sites where a gas pipeline and two telecommunications cables were damaged in the Gulf of Finland. This revelation has intensified the ongoing investigation into these incidents.
On the morning of October 8, vital infrastructure connecting Finland and Estonia was disrupted. The gas pipeline and one of the telecom cables were damaged, with Finnish authorities hinting at possible deliberate sabotage. This was soon followed by reports from Sweden, revealing that another telecom link, this one connecting Stockholm to Tallinn, had also suffered damages around the same timeline.
These consecutive events have not only sparked concerns over the integrity of energy and communication supplies in the broader Nordic region but have also ushered in heightened security measures. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has increased its patrols in the Baltic Sea, emphasizing the strategic importance of the area. The Finnish government has reached out to both Moscow and Beijing through diplomatic avenues, seeking clarity on the incidents.
Data sourced from MarineTraffic, a renowned ship-tracking and maritime analytics provider, has added a twist to the narrative. The firm’s data shows that only two ships, the aforementioned NewNew Polar Bear and Sevmorput, were present at all three incident sites during the estimated timeframes of the damages.
The NewNew Polar Bear is a Chinese container vessel that operates between China and Europe, primarily using the Northern Sea Route in the Arctic. Meanwhile, the Sevmorput is a nuclear-powered cargo vessel, facilitating transit between the Russian cities of Murmansk and St. Petersburg.
Reuters independently corroborated the MarineTraffic data, lining up the ships’ paths with the exact locations where the damages took place. This correlation has been instrumental in shaping the direction of the investigations.
Further cementing these suspicions, Finnish and Estonian authorities have been quick to demarcate restricted navigation zones around the areas of interest in the Gulf of Finland. Additionally, the paths of these ships coincide with the movement patterns of military and service vessels dispatched to examine the damage.
A deeper dive into the timings provides more clarity:
- Swedish-Estonian Telecom Cable Incident: On October 7, the NewNew Polar Bear was recorded passing over the affected cable at 1813 EET (1513 GMT). The Sevmorput followed suit, albeit slightly westward, at 2008 EET. Arelion, the telecom cable’s operator, confirmed damage during the afternoon of October 7, although they refrained from providing a precise timeframe.
- Gas Pipeline Incident: Early hours of October 8 saw the NewNew Polar Bear pass over the damaged pipeline at 0120 EET (2220 GMT on October 7). Interestingly, the Sevmorput had already crossed that point, a mere eight minutes earlier at 0112 EET. This timeline matches an unusual event: Norwegian seismologists detected a minor seismic event near the pipeline. Gasgrid and Elering, the companies operating the pipeline, noted that the gas leak likely transpired between 0100 and 0200 EET on October 8.
- Finland-Estonia Telecom Link: On October 8, the NewNew Polar Bear was seen crossing the telecom link at 0249 EET (2349 GMT, October 7), with Sevmorput having crossed at 0226 EET. Elisa, the cable’s operator, has remained tight-lipped about when the damages occurred. However, the Estonian Navy estimates it to be roughly two hours post the gas pipeline incident.
In light of these findings, Reuters reached out to the involved parties for comments. NewNew Shipping, overseeing the NewNew Polar Bear, opted not to comment. Russia’s Atomflot, responsible for the country’s nuclear-powered vessels, refuted claims of Sevmorput’s involvement and subsequently declined further comment. In a separate statement, Russian President Vladimir Putin outrightly dismissed the notion that Russia had any role in the gas pipeline damages, terming it as “rubbish.”
As the story unfolds, it remains to be seen how this complex geopolitical puzzle will impact relations in the Nordic region and potentially beyond.