Head of Estonian Navy Resigns in Smuggling Scandal

The Sakala, center, in an undated file image (social media)

By MarEx 2016-11-24 17:05:43

The commander of the Estonian Navy, Captain Sten Sepper, has resigned from his post following the discovery of smuggled liquor and cigarettes aboard a minehunting ship.

Customs officials said that earlier this month they found over 50 cases of cigarettes and over 250 gallons (1000 liters) of liquor aboard the naval vessel Sakala, all of it without revenue stamps. 

The ship is a member of Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group 1, and she was participating in a NATO mine countermeasures exercise at the time of the smuggling bust. Over thirty people were on board, and investigators do not yet know who was directly responsible.

Captain Sepper "decided to resign due to the damage to reputation accompanying the unacceptable event, irrespective of where the opened criminal case and official investigation will lead," said defense minister Hannes Hanso, speaking to Estonian Public Broadcasting. 

Captain Sepper will remain with the service in a different capacity. The commander of the Sakala has also tendered his resignation.

"This is a shameful and absolutely inadmissible incident that damages the reputation of Estonian Navy," said the vice chair of the Estonian parliament's national defense committee, Mart Helme.

The leadership shakeup comes at a time of heightened tensions in the Baltic. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were annexed by the Soviet Union during the Second World War; while they are now members of NATO and the EU, they still have ethnic Russian populations – and they are concerned that as in Georgia and Ukraine, Russia may decide to use some form of unrest as an excuse to invade.

A recent RAND study concluded that the Baltic states would be difficult to defend in the event that Russia should launch an attack.

Russia has insisted that it has no interest in war in the Baltic region. However, on Monday, Russian president Vladimir Putin announced the deployment of an advanced ballistic missile system to Kaliningrad, an isolated Russian enclave adjacent to Lithuania. "We are concerned by NATO decision making," Putin said. "We have, therefore, to take countermeasures, which means to target with our missile systems the facilities that in our opinion start posing a threat to us." The newly deployed Iskander missile system is nuclear capable, and would have the range to strike Lithuania and much of Poland.