‘Chinese vessel was close to undersea pipeline linking Finland and Estonia when it developed mystery leak’
- Previous reports focused on possible Russian sabotage to the Baltic Connector
A Chinese vessel is suspected to have been close to a major undersea gas pipeline when it developed a sudden leak in the Gulf of Finland, it was revealed today.
Previous reports had focused on possible Russian sabotage to the Baltic Connector gas pipeline, linking NATO states Finland and Estonia, which Finnish authorities expect to be out of service for months after discovering it had been damaged earlier this month.
Vladimir Putin described the charge as ‘complete nonsense’ despite the presence of the Russian oil tanker SGV Float close to the scene, and Finnish claims that a ‘state actor’ was likely involved.
But now Estonian state broadcaster ERR said the container ship Newnew Polar Bear was closer to the pipeline at the key moment.
Estonian daily Postimees said the vessel – sailing under the Hong Kong flag but belonging to China – was in the vicinity of the Baltic Connector pipeline when ‘seismic’ activity was recorded in the area.
But now Estonian state broadcaster ERR said the container ship Newnew Polar Bear (pictured above) was closer to the pipeline at the key moment
Estonian daily Postimees said the vessel (pictured here) – sailing under the Hong Kong flag but belonging to China – was in the vicinity of the Baltic Connector pipeline when ‘seismic’ activity was recorded in the area
It was ‘much closer’ than the Russian ship eight days ago when the leak was caused by ‘strong mechanical force’ in the Gulf of Finland.
The Estonian authorities were reported to have been slow to voice concrete suspicions because the information ‘is so politically and diplomatically sensitive that they want to make absolutely sure first’.
The container ship was returning from Shanghai with a stop in Russian Baltic exclave Kaliningrad on its way to St Petersburg, it was reported.
Estonia has not yet challenged China at diplomatic level.
The reinforced ice class vessel is due to carry 62 large containers from St Petersburg to China, via the Northern Sea Route, to the north of Siberia.
Putin mocked the Western suspicion of Russia.
The 94-mile-long pipeline supplies a third of Finland’s gas demands
Finnish defence sources previously said the government considered the possibility of Russian interference from the beginning
‘Frankly speaking, I did not even know this [Baltic Connector] gas pipe exists,’ he said.
‘It could have been anything… They might have hit it with some kind of hook. I don’t know . . . There might have been an earthquake. I don’t know, let them investigate.’
He claimed the West was seeking to mask its involvement – unproven – in explosions which damaged the Russian-built Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic Sea last year.
‘These claims have only one purpose: to cover up the terrorist act committed by the West against the Nord Stream gas pipelines,’ he said.
Probes by Germany, Sweden and Denmark have so far failed to pinpoint the blame. Leaks from the German investigation focus attention on a Ukrainian link.
Russia has variously blamed Britain and the US.