A Chinese container ship's dislodged anchor caused damage to a Baltic Sea gas pipeline between Finland and Estonia, Finnish police believe.
The Hong Kong-flagged cargo vessel Newnew Polar Bear is responsible for the damage earlier this month to the undersea Balticconnector pipeline spanning the Gulf of Finland, said the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), citing evidence and data.
Investigators said the Finnish navy has retrieved an anchor from the location where the pipeline ruptured on 8 October, and they were investigating whether it belonged to the Chinese vessel.
A 1.5 to 4-metre-wide seabed trail, leading to the point where the pipeline was broken, was likely caused by the dislodged six-tonne anchor.
"There are traces in the [anchor] which indicate that it has been in contact with the gas pipeline," said Detective Superintendent Risto Lohi, who is heading the NBI investigation.
Officials said that establishing if the damage was intentional, unintentional, or due to "bad seafaring" would be the focus of the next phase of the probe.
On 8 October, Finnish and Estonian gas system operators observed a significant pressure drop in the pipeline, leading to it being shut down.
It was discovered that the 48-mile pipeline linking the Finnish town of Inkoo and the Estonian port of Paldiski had suffered mechanical damage within the Finnish economic zone, leading to its displacement from its original position in the seabed.
Finnish authorities identified the Newnew Polar Bear as the prime suspect last week, aligning the ship's route and location with the timing and location of the incident.
Recent social media images of the Chinese vessel, which stopped at the port of St Petersburg in Russia during its Baltic Sea journey, displayed the absence of one of its anchors.
The Marine Traffic website shows the ship is currently navigating through the waters of northern Russia, possibly en route back to China via the Northern Sea Route.
Despite multiple attempts to reach the ship's captain, Finnish investigators have been unable to establish contact and are currently collaborating with Chinese authorities regarding the matter.
During a regular media briefing, a spokesperson from the Chinese foreign ministry reiterated Beijing's request for a fair and comprehensive investigation into the incident, stating the Chinese vessel was operating normally at the time.
New images released by the Finnish Border Guard revealed significant harm to the €300m (£260m) Balticconnector gas pipeline, an essential link between Finland and the European gas network, which began operations in early 2020.
Repairs are estimated to last until at least the end of April.
Meanwhile, a Finland-Estonia and Sweden-Estonia telecom cable was damaged at the same time as the pipeline, with Finnish authorities indicating a connection to the Chinese vessel.