Russian telecoms cable joins list of damaged subsea Baltic infrastructure

Finnish authorities said on Monday October 6th that a Russian fibre-optic telecommunications cable in the Baltic Sea was discovered damaged at around the same time damage was experienced to subsea infrastructure in Sweden and Finland.

“The Russian salvage vessel Spasatel Karev (IMO 9497531) began to repair Rostelecom’s Baltika telecommunications cable in the Gulf of Finland on November 6th”, Finland’s economic affairs ministry said. The ministry was informed of the damage to the Baltika telecommunications cable – partly located in Finland’s exclusive economic zone – by Russia’s state-owned telecommunications operator Rostelecom on October 12th.

The Balticconnector gas pipeline from Finland to Estonia, an adjacent telecom cable and a second cable from Estonia to Sweden were all damaged in the early hours of October 8th.

The Swedish government also said in October that a telecommunication cable linking the Scandinavian country to Estonia was damaged at the same time as the gas pipeline.

Rostelecom told Finnish authorities that the Baltika cable, spanning around 1,000km from St Petersburg to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad between Germany and Poland, needed rapid repairs to ensure services in the region.

Although there were early suspicions that the incidents were the result of deliberate Russian sabotage, later evidence pointed rather strongly towards the guilty party being a Chinese-owned container ship NewNew Polar Bear (IMO 9313204), and the damage being an accident that was the result of a dragging anchor. The vessel crossed the pipeline at the location of the damage site, and at about the same moment a faint seismic event was detected near that position. The vessel, which had arrived in the Baltic via a high-profile transit of the Northern Sea Route, was later photographed arriving in Archangelsk with what appeared to be an empty port side hawsepipe, missing one anchor. The NewNew Polar Bear’s crew declined to cooperate with investigators, and the ship has long since departed.

Finnish authorities are still working to determine whether the damage was intentional, although knowledgeable analysts have all said that this was unlikely, as, given its high profile, the NewNew Polar Bear would have been the last ship anyone would have deployed to deliberately sabotage a random collection of pipes operated by several different countries abutting the Baltic Sea.

Finland’s Prime Minister Petteri Orpo has said that Finland was consulting with Chinese authorities to find out more about the ship.

2012-built, Russia-flagged, 2,530 gt Spasatel Karev is owned and managed by the Russian government. As of November 7th it was in the Gulf of Finland under restricted manoeuvrability.

2005-built, Hong Kong-flagged, 16,324 gt NewNew Polar Bear is owned and managed by Hainan Xin Xin Shipping of Hainan, China. It is no longer listed as covered by London Club.