By Nerijus Adomaitis and Anne Kauranen
OSLO/HELSINKI (Reuters) – A Norwegian Navy ship shadowed a Chinese container ship investigated over damage to a gas pipeline in the Gulf of Finland for about 15 hours as it sailed along the western coast of Norway on Monday, vessel tracking data showed.
Finnish investigators on Tuesday said they were looking into the Chinese vessel, the NewNew Polar Bear, and a Russian-flagged ship, the Sevmorput, as well as other vessels, present in the area when a Baltic Sea pipeline was damaged on Oct. 8.
They said the incident was due to “outside activity” and could have been deliberate.
The NewNew Polar Bear is a container ship travelling between Europe and China via the Northern Sea Route in the Arctic. On Monday, it left the Baltic Sea and entered the North Sea to head north along the Norwegian coast.
A Norwegian coast guard patrol vessel, the KV Sortland, shadowed the NewNew Polar Bear from Monday 0400 GMT off Norway’s southern tip, until around 1915 GMT, when the vessel was some 70 km (43 miles) northwest of Bergen, Marine Traffic data showed.
The area covered broadly coincides with the area where most of Norway’s exporting gas pipelines are located, as well as some of its key oil and gas platforms.
The KV Sortland followed the NewNew Polar Bear at a distance of 1 nautical mile, or about 1.8 km, for about 15 hours.
The Norwegian military’s operational command centre declined to comment on Monday’s operation.
Speaking generally, it said the coast guard “plays a crucial role in maintaining the security and safety of maritime activities in the region, including fisheries protection, search and rescue operations, and monitoring of shipping activities”.
NewNew Shipping, the owner and operator of the NewNew Polar Bear, declined to comment when contacted by Reuters.
Norway, Europe’s largest gas supplier, deployed its Navy after the Nord Stream sabotage to protect its offshore oil and gas platforms, as well as its network of gas pipelines under the North Sea, which spread over 8,000 km (4,971 miles).
Oslo is closely monitoring the progress of the probe in the Baltic Sea incident.
(Reporting by Nerijus Adomaitis in Oslo, Anne Kauranen in Helsinki, Andrius Sytas in Vilnius and Beijing newsroom; editing by Gwladys Fouche and Bill Berkrot)