Sweden says telecom cable with Estonia damaged

A Baltic Sea telecom cable connecting Sweden and Estonia was damaged at roughly the same time as a Finnish-Estonian pipeline and cable were hit earlier this month. However, the telecom cable remained operational, Sweden’s civil defence minister said on Tuesday October 17th.

Meanwhile, Finnish authorities said that they were focusing on ships near the damaged Finland-Estonia pipeline, which will take several months to fix completely.

Finnish investigators said they had identified vessels operating in the area where the damage to the pipeline and cable occurred on October 8th, one of which was Russian-flagged ship and another of which was Chinese-owned.

Finland said last week that the Balticconnector subsea gas pipeline and a telecommunications cable connecting Finland and Estonia had been damaged in what may have been a deliberate act.

Finnish authorities said last week that “external marks” had been found on the seabed beside the damaged pipeline and that they were reviewing vessel traffic in the area at the time of the rupture.

Finland’s National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) said it had used open sources to determine the vessels operating in the area at the time of the incident. “Investigative measures have been focused on several vessels, including the NewNew Polar Bear and Sevmorput, but also on others which, according to data, had been in the area at the time of the damage”.

The damage to the Swedish-Estonian cable was sustained outside the territorial waters and EEZ of Sweden, according to civil defence minister Carl-Oskar Bohlin. He said that “we can’t say at the moment what caused this damage, but what we can say is that this damage has happened at a similar time and in physical proximity … to the damage that was previously reported to a gas pipeline between Estonia and Finland and a telecommunications cable between Estonia and Finland.”

Network provider Arelion confirmed one if its subsea fibre cables had been partially damaged, stating that “we currently do not know what caused the damage. The cable will be repaired over the next few weeks depending on the weather”,

Estonian Economic Affairs and Communications Ministry told Estonia’s public broadcaster ERR that the damage to the cable to Sweden took place about 50km west of Hiiumaa Island.

Estonia is a NATO member, while Sweden is waiting on ratification to join.

The head of Sweden’s navy said policing surface and undersea traffic in the Baltic was a challenge.

Europe and NATO have become increasingly concerned about the vulnerability of critical infrastructure around and under the Baltic Sea.

The NewNew Polar Bear is a container vessel owned and operated by Chinese company NewNew Shipping, while Sevmorput is a Russian-flagged, nuclear-powered, cargo ship.  Sevmorput owner Atomflot, a subsidiary of Russian nuclear industry company Rosatom, rejected as “groundless” any suggestion its vessel had been involved. An Atomflot statement said that on the day at issue the Sevmorput had been operating from Murmansk to St. Petersburg and had passed through the Gulf of Finland “without slowing down”, adding that “the crew did not observe or record anything unusual, suspicious, or otherwise reportable”.

NewNew Shipping declined to comment.

Sweden’s Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson in a recent news conference said there was a “spaghetti” of critical infrastructure at the bottom of the Baltic Sea, and announced that Sweden and its partners in the Joint Expeditionary Force – a 10-nation military alliance – would look at ways to improve protection of crucial pipes and cables.

The Newnew Polar Bear recently made headlines after traversing the Northern Sea Route to Kaliningrad, Russia, where it arrived earlier this month.

The Russian-flagged Sevmorput is owned by the Russian government and is notable for being the last nuclear-powered cargo ship.