OFFICIALS from the Finnish Border Guard and National Bureau of Investigation (KRP) on Tuesday revealed that an anchor weighing roughly 6,000 kilos has been lifted from the seabed near the damaged section of Balticconnector, a gas pipeline between Finland and Estonia.
The anchor was lifted from a three-metre-deep hole, and it shows signs of having come into contact with the pipeline, according to Risto Lohi, a detective superintendent at KRP.
It appears that the anchor was dragged along the seabed for several kilometres before possibly hitting the pipeline, judging by a 1.5–4-metre-wide trail leading up to the point of damage. A narrower trail has been discovered on the other side of the pipeline, which is believed to have been caused by the shackle of the anchor.
Lohi stated at a news conference yesterday that it is possible that the anchor broke off near the gas pipeline and that chain damaged a data cable between Finland and Estonia.
The main investigation line remains Newnew Polar Bear, a Chinese-owned, Hong Kong-flagged cargo ship the movements of which match the time and place of the damage. Both the gas pipeline and data cable were damaged in the early hours of Sunday, 8 October.
Finnish authorities are presently trying to determine whether the anchor was dragged along the seabed deliberately or due to negligence.
The vessel at the centre of what has been described as a sabotage investigation was unwilling to co-operate when contacted by authorities after departing from St. Petersburg. Authorities did notice, however, that the vessel appears to be missing an anchor on the port side of its bow, a possibility that was raised earlier yesterday in an article by YLE.
Lohi pointed out that law enforcement authorities were unable to take coercive measures against the vessel because it was sailing in the exclusive economic zone of Finland. Authorities, he added, were on alert, prepared to act should the vessel enter the country’s territorial waters.
Attempts to reach the vessel are continuing with the help of international partners, including Chinese authorities.
Pami Aalto, a professor of international relations at Tampere University, stated to YLE on Tuesday evening that forensic methods may not be enough to bring to light all the facts linked to the pipeline damage. It may be difficult to determine, for example, whether the vessel has had or financial transactions or communication with authorities and other organisations in other countries.
“You should be able to follow also these kinds of leads in order to reach the same kind of certainty as the police investigation has reached about the anchor being the apparent cause of the damage,” he said.
The incident may be surrounded with uncertainty and unknowns for a long time, according to him.
Aalto estimated that the Chinese vessel likely has an experienced crew given that it also operates in northern parts of the Arctic Sea. On the other hand, accounts of the crew’s actions point to inexperience.
“Many things don’t add up here,” he stated.
Aleksi Teivainen – HT