Finland says China has promised full cooperation in pipeline probe

Finland’s prime minister Petteri Orpo has said that he could be asking for EU funding to repair the undersea Balticconnector pipeline, one of several seafloor pieces of infrastructure that were damaged in early October.

“We have a clear picture of what has happened. Now we are cooperating with China to find the role of the Chinese ship which was in this area at the time the damage happened,” Orpo said when he arrived at a European Council summit in Brussels.

The 77km Balticconnector gas pipeline links Finland and Estonia. After it was reported as damaged, the Finnish National Bureau of Investigation found a large anchor close to the damaged pipeline, with the Chinese ship NewNew Polar Bear (IMO 9313204) now in the investigation spotlight.

To help repair the damaged pipeline, Orpo plans to ask for EU funding for countering hybrid threats. “The EU has been closely involved in the investigation since the beginning and has offered its help and support, as has NATO,” Orpo said, describing the pipeline as a “part of EU strategic energy infrastructure”.

Finland said on Wednesday that China had promised to cooperate fully in the investigation of the damage of the Balticconnector gas pipeline, which happened on the same night that three subsea telecoms cables in the area were damaged.

The Hong Kong-registered container vessel NewNew Polar Bear had recently arrived via a high-profile Northern Sea Route tri. It was suspected of damaging the pipeline by dragging its anchor over the sea bed, but Finland has not concluded whether this was an accident or not. Most industry experts think that an accident is a far more likely explanation than sabotage.

An anchor believed to belong to the Chinese ship was later found near the pipeline at the bottom of the Baltic Sea, and was retrieved by Finnish investigators. Finnish Foreign Minister Elina Valtonen told Reuters on the sidelines of a news conference in Helsinki that “(China) has promised full cooperation and we trust it”, adding that “now that the investigation is progressing, and it is currently at the official level, I believe that the Chinese authorities will not only take it seriously, but will also fully cooperate with us”.

Two telecoms cables linking Estonia to Finland and Sweden were damaged on the same night of October 7th/8th, and late last week it was confirmed that one of Russia-based Rostelecom’s fibre-optic cables had also been hit.

Marine traffic data showed that the NewNew Polar Bear passed over the pipeline and the telecoms cables within nine hours. Rostelecom said that it would not be seeking compensation for the damage to its cable and that it would complete the repair at its own expense.

Rostelecom has said that a specialized vessel began repairs on November 5th on the fibre-optic cable, which runs from St Petersburg to Russia’s Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad, and the source said it would make an announcement once these were complete.

Finland had informed Russia about its investigation into the damage to the Balticconnector pipeline, but Russia did not seek Helsinki’s help to investigate the cable breach, Valtonen told reporters on Wednesday.

China had previously said it was willing to provide necessary information on the incident in accordance with international law, while NewNew Shipping, the owner and operator of the NewNew Polar Bear, had previously declined to comment when contacted by Reuters.

2005-built, Hong Kong-flagged, 16,324 gt NewNew Polar Bear is owned and managed by Hainan Xin get Yang Shipping of Haikou, Hainan, China. It had been recorded entered with London Club on behalf of Hainan Xin get Yang Shipping Co Ltd, but no longer appears in the club’s online database.