Did China intentionally sabotage a Baltic Sea pipeline?

A Baltic Sea gas pipeline was damaged earlier this month, and Finland and Estonia are pointing fingers at a Chinese container vessel and a dragged anchor, leaving some to suspect the incident was an act of deliberate sabotage by China.

The facts are still coming in, but, with two NATO countries actively questioning China’s intent, it feels like it should be a much bigger story, as few appear to be talking about the possible implications of such an act.

At least one U.S. Senator — Sen. Eric Schmitt (R-Mo.) — is speaking out, and it doesn’t sound good.

“Reports indicate a Chinese shipping vessel dragged anchor, potentially for miles, causing severe damage to a Baltic Sea gas pipeline,” he wrote on Thursday. “While the investigation by authorities is still ongoing, it’s hard to believe this wasn’t an act of sabotage by China.”


According to Reuters, the pipeline in question ruptured on Oct. 8.

Finnish investigators “retrieved a lost anchor from the seabed location” where the rupture occurred and were “investigating whether it belonged to a Chinese container vessel.”

“Police have previously said damage to the Balticconnector subsea gas pipeline and two Baltic Sea telecoms cables was cause by external mechanical force and were investigating whether this was a case of sabotage or caused by accident,” Reuters reports. “Broad drag marks were seen on the seabed leading up to where the pipeline was broken, and the anchor was lying immediately after the damage spot. A narrower path was seen on the seabed stretching onwards for dozens of miles, police said.”

One of the anchor’s two spikes had broken off, the police noted.

“The next questions are about whether it was intentional, negligence, poor seamanship, and that’s where we get into whether there could be a motive for what’s going on,” said National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) chief Robin Lardot at a press conference. “But it’s too early to answer that at this stage.”

On Friday, the NBI focused its attention on a container vessel — China’s NewNew Polar Bear, which was sailing under the Hong Kong flag — that was traveling above the pipeline and cables when the damage was sustained. By Tuesday, they had confirmed that the NewNew Polar Bear was missing its front anchor.

Though unsuccessful, the NBI said it attempted to contact the ship to discover if the missing anchor was, in fact, the one found in the Gulf of Finland.

Meanwhile, on Monday, China called for an “objective, fair and professional” investigation into the incident. According to China, the NewNew Polar Bear was sailing normally.

“It is understood that the Chinese vessel was normal in the relevant waters at the time of the incident, and no abnormalities were found due to the poor sea conditions at that time,” Mao Ning, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, said at a regular press briefing.

Finnish Crime Commissioner Risto Lohi said the question of “premeditation” will be a key part of the investigation.

“Particular attention will be paid to investigating if there has been any premeditation or negligence involved in the sequence of events,” he said, according to The Wall Street Journal.

“The incident cut pipeline gas supplies to Finland, although the country expects to manage with imports of liquefied natural gas via ship deliveries to its Inkoo port,” Reuters reports. “As a result of the damage, NATO has stepped up patrols in the Baltic Sea.”

According to The Journal, “The increased measures include additional surveillance and reconnaissance flights with planes and drones.”

“The alliance is also dispatching a fleet of four NATO mine hunters to the area,” the outlet adds.

“We continue to monitor the situation closely, and we remain in close contact with our allies Estonia and Finland, and our partner Sweden,” acting NATO spokesperson Dylan White said. “NATO will continue to adapt its maritime posture in the Baltic Sea and will take all necessary steps to keep allies safe.”

“While the investigation by Finnish authorities is ongoing, it’s hard to believe that this wasn’t an act of sabotage by China, especially considering the energy situation in Europe,” Sen. Schmitt said in a Thursday statement. “We need answers, and if it was in fact a deliberate act of sabotage, China needs to be held accountable.”

Melissa Fine

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