MYSTERY shrouds a Baltic Sea gas pipeline that is believed to have been damaged – either deliberately or accidentally – by a Chinese ship.
Investigators believe the vessel dragged its six-tonne anchor across the vital tube – ripping it open.
It comes amid growing fears of attacks on Western infrastructure in a hybrid war by rogue states.
The Finnish navy have retrieved a lost six-tonne anchor from where the Finland-Estonia pipeline ruptured on October 8.
They also found broad drag marks along the seabed, as well as a narrower path which stretched for dozens of miles, which investigators say were likely caused by the dislodged anchor.
Authorities are looking into whether the mysterious rupture of the 48-mile Balticconnector subsea gas pipeline and damage to two Baltic Sea telecommunications cables could be a case of sabotage.
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The incident cut pipeline gas supplies to Finland and led NATO to step up patrols in the Baltic Sea.
Repair works are expected to continue until at least the end of April.
National Bureau of Investigation chief Robin Lardot told a press conference on Tuesday: "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.
"But it's too early to answer that at this stage."
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It follows an ominous warning that Vladimir Putin's shadowy fleet of submarines could cripple the West by cutting vital undersea cables.
Putin is known to have a number of specialist submarines dedicated to the task.
This time last year, it was feared the larger Nord Stream gas pipelines were damaged by explosions in an act of sabotage by Russia.
Authorities in the region have since said the explosions were deliberate but have not identified a suspect.
The National Bureau of Investigation suggested last week that the Hong Kong-flagged cargo vessel Newnew Polar Bear could be responsible for the damage to the Finland-Estonia pipeline.
On Tuesday, after China called for an "objective, fair, and professional" investigation into the damage, Finland said they had established the Newnew Polar Bear was in fact missing one of its front anchors.
The first subsea images of the damage site and the anchor were unveiled at the press conference called over the possible attack.
Investigators said they had tried, unsuccessfully, to establish contact with the ship to determine whether its missing anchor was the same as the one they retrieved.
They are now collaborating with Chinese authorities.
Detective Superintendent Risto Lohi, who is heading Finland's investigation, said there were traces in the recovered anchor which indicated it had been in contact with the gas pipeline, reported Sky News.
The pipeline was found to have suffered mechanical damage within the Finnish economic zone after a significant pressure drop raised the alarm to gas operators that something was awry.
Finnish authorities identified the Newnew Polar Bear as the prime suspect last week as its route and location aligned with the known circumstances of the rupture.
The ship is currently navigating through the waters of northern Russia, according to the Marine Traffic website.
Some have speculated the crash was deliberate.
Biological and chemical warfare defence expert Dr Lawrence Sellin wrote on X/Twitter: "It appears that a Chinese ship deliberately damaged the gas pipeline and communication cable between Finland and Estonia with the anchor and chain method China often uses.
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"Likely done at Russia's request to punish Finland for joining NATO and for Estonia's support of Ukraine."
It comes amid rising tensions between Russia and the West, as governments work to improve security around Europe's energy, information, and transportation networks.
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