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Just Months After Mysterious Rupture, Finland-Estonia Gas Line Restored

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 Apr 25, 2024 10:26 PM by The Maritime Executive

This week, the gas pipeline connecting Finland and Estonia reopened successfully, just seven months after it was severed by "mechanical impact or mechanical destruction." A consortium of subsea construction companies pulled together to bring the repairs to completion, and first gas flowed through the line again on Monday. 

“All repairs were performed via remotely controlled equipment and no divers were involved in the work," said Tiit Toomits, Marine Pipeline Maintenance Manager for Elering. "While repairing such submarine infrastructure usually takes 1-2 years, Balticconnector was repaired in approximately seven months."

The exact cause of the rupture has not yet been formally established, but an anchor strike - accidental or intentional - appears virtually certain. A broken anchor was retrieved from the scene of the breach, and an anchor-sized drag trail stretched for miles leading up to the pipeline.

Initially, the list of suspects included the Russian icebreaking LASH carrier Sevmorput - the world's last nuclear-powered cargo ship - and the Chinese ice-class container ship NewNew Polar Bear. Both vessels crossed over the Balticconnector pipeline at about 0112-0120 hours on October 8, 2023, about the same time that a seismographic station in Finland picked up a faint tremor - potentially indicating an explosion or pressurized gas release. NewNew Polar Bear later called at Arkhangelsk, Russia, where she was photographed entering the harbor without a port-side anchor.

Investigators in Finland quickly homed in on the Polar Bear, which is now the primary subject of the inquiry."Container vessel NewNew Polar Bear and its anchor are considered to be connected to the pipeline damage," Finland's NBI told Reuters this week. The investigation is still under way, and Finnish authorities have been in contact with their Chinese counterparts to gather information. 

Three telecom cables were also damaged in the same incident, affecting communications between Sweden, Estonia and Finland. The outage added to the list of subsea incidents in the Baltic: In 2022, a clandestine attack on pipeline infrastructure near the island of Bornholm destroyed three out of the four pipelines in Gazprom's Nord Stream network. The culprit has not been formally identified, and Germany is still investigating the blasts.