China is Not Cooperating in Estonian Pipeline Breach Case

Low-resolution video still of damage to the Balticconnector pipeline (Finland NBI)
Low-resolution video still of damage to the Balticconnector pipeline (Finland NBI)

Published May 28, 2024 2:49 PM by The Maritime Executive


Chinese authorities are not helping with the investigation into the Baltic pipeline damage investigation involving a Chinese-owned boxship, according to Estonian prosecutors. 

In the early hours of October 8, 2023 the Balticconnector gas pipeline between Finland and Estonia was severed by "mechanical impact or mechanical destruction." Post-accident inspections of the site found a miles-long drag trail leading up to the pipeline, a broken anchor at the damage site, and a smaller drag trail the size of an anchor stock leading away. Three telecom cables were also reportedly damaged. 

Authorities believe that the most compelling evidence points to the Chinese-owned boxship NewNew Polar Bear. AIS data shows that the vessel crossed the damage site at about the same moment that a faint seismic event was detected near that position. The ship was later photographed in Archangelsk with what appeared to be an empty port side hawsepipe, missing one anchor. 

The NewNew Polar Bear's crew refused to cooperate with local investigators, and Estonian and Finnish authorities are still working to determine whether the damage was intentional. 

Finnish authorities initially said that they were in contact with their Chinese counterparts to gather information about the case, but on Tuesday, Estonia's state prosecutor said that China was stonewalling. Six months into the formal investigation, "Chinese authorities have not provided a response on executing the legal aid request as of yet," prosecutor Triinu Olev told media in a statement. "We submitted a legal aid request to the Chinese authorities to gather evidence from the vessel and its crew."

Finnish authorities made their own, separate request, and Olev did not address the status of that inquiry. 

As for NewNew Polar Bear, its AIS signal was last detected in Tianjin, where it has stayed since it returned from Russia via the Northern Sea Route in December.