China ‘cooperating’ with Finland over damaged pipeline


The suspected ship has changed its operator for unannounced reasons.

China ‘cooperating’ with Finland over damaged pipeline

A Finnish Border Guard photo of the cargo ship Newnew Polar Bear, which was spotted moving close to the Balticconnector gas line on 8th Oct., 2023.

China is cooperating with Helsinki’s investigation into the damaged Balticconnector gas pipeline, in which a Chinese vessel has been named as the prime suspect, Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo said. 

“We have opened diplomatic discussions with the Chinese and also we have started cooperation with Chinese authorities,” Orpo told reporters on the sidelines of a meeting of Nordic countries in Oslo on Tuesday.

His comments come as the suspected ship changed its operator.

Finnish police last week named the Hong Kong-flagged container vessel Newnew Polar Bear as their main suspect in the incident which took place on Oct. 8, 2023 when a major gas pipeline between Finland and Estonia was severely damaged by a “dragging anchor.”

They said an anchor, believed to belong to the Newnew Polar Bear, was found on the seabed, just meters away from the pipeline.

The Chinese ship and a Russian nuclear-powered vessel, Sevmorput, were the only ships seen at the location when the pipeline was reportedly broken at around 1:20 a.m. local time.

Norwegian seismology institute NORSAR reported blast-like waves in the area at the time.

“We have to get a clear picture of what has happened before making any conclusions,” Orpo was quoted by news agencies as saying.

The prime minister said he hoped “the next few days will show how it goes.”

Earlier the Estonian government said that the pipeline incident is “related” to the damaging of two undersea telecoms cables linking Estonia with Finland and Sweden on Oct. 7 and Oct. 8.

“We have reason to believe that the cases of Balticconnector and the communication cables are related,” Estonia’s Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said in a statement.

NATO, of which Estonia and Finland are members, has stepped up patrols in the Baltic Sea following the incidents.

Changed operator

Meanwhile the container ship under suspicion – Newnew Polar Bear – has changed its operating company.

Sailing permissions by the Northern Sea Route Administration under Russia’s state nuclear power company Rosatom, which provides icebreaking support to shipping lines in the Russian Arctic, seen by RFA show that the Newnew Polar Bear is now operated by Torgmoll, a Chinese logistics company with offices in Shanghai and Moscow. 

Previously, the container ship was operated by its owner Hainan Xin Xin Yang Shipping Co. Ltd, also known as Hainan Yangpu Newnew Shipping Co.

The ship’s owner so far has not responded to Finnish police inquiries.

Torgmoll, the new operator, is well connected with Moscow and has a long history of working with Russia, its company profile said.

“If there’s now a Russia connection and given the alleged circumstances of what happened I think it’s unlikely it would be co-operative [with Finland’s investigators],” said Keith Wallis, an independent shipping specialist.

“For the investigation into the pipeline breakage it would be interesting to see if the new operators have changed crew,” he added. 

The Northern Sea Route (NSR) is one of the strategic priorities for cooperation between Russia and China and a much quicker logistics alternative. It can reduce the transit time between Russia’s St. Petersburg and China’s Shanghai to less than a month, compared to 45-50 days if traveling through the Suez Canal.

According to Chinese shipping sources, Newnew Shipping wants to operate five ships on the NSR this year and add eight to 10 more in 2024.

“The NSR has been used commercially since at least 2010 but it is only open for a specific season because of the ice,” said Keith Wallis. “The ability to use the NSR is also limited to a certain size of ship.”

“The entire route is under Russia’s control so if the operator wants to put ships of similar size to the Newnew Polar Bear [on the route] it shouldn’t be a problem,” he said.

Some Russian analysts such as sinologist Nikolai Vavilov said China wanted to redistribute “traffic from the Indo-Pacific to the Northern route.”

The traffic can increase massively in the near future from the Baltic and along the Northern Sea Route, Vavilov wrote on the Telegram social media platform.

Edited by Mike Firn and Taejun Kang.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *