By Andrius Sytas
VILNIUS (Reuters) -Estonia has contacted Chinese authorities as part of its investigation into how two Baltic Sea telecom cables were severed, the Estonian foreign ministry said on Monday.
Early on Oct. 8, a gas pipeline and a telecoms cable connecting Finland and Estonia under the Baltic Sea were broken, in what Finnish investigators say may have been deliberate sabotage.
Last week, the Estonian government said “human interference” damaged the cable, and was probably also responsible for the partial impairment that night of another underwater telecoms cable between Estonia and Sweden.
Reuters reported that two vessels, Hong-Kong-flagged NewNew Polar Bear and Russia-flagged Sevmorput, were present at all three sites around the time of the damage, according to data from MarineTraffic, a ship-tracking and maritime analytics provider.
The incidents have stoked concerns about energy security in the wider Nordic region, prompted NATO to increase patrols in the Baltic Sea and Helsinki to contact Moscow and Beijing via diplomatic channels about the incidents.
Helsinki is investigating the damage to the pipeline and Tallinn that to the cables.
Last week, Estonian investigators said they were examining the role of the two vessels, and whether the damage to the telecom cables was deliberate, or a result of negligence.
“Estonia has been in contact with Chinese authorities to encourage cooperation concerning the investigation,” a foreign ministry spokesperson said in an email to Reuters on Monday.
The spokesperson said Estonia wanted to encourage “any cooperation necessary for the investigation,” adding Russia was not contacted “as we have not seen necessity for this”.
Earlier on Monday China called for an “objective, fair and professional” investigation into the gas pipeline damage.
“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,” a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson told reporters.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Monday repeated Moscow’s denial of any involvement.
Any threats against Russia were “unacceptable”, he said in response to Latvian President’s Edgars Rinkevics call for NATO to shut the Baltic Sea to shipping if Moscow were found responsible.
Finland, Estonia and Latvia are members of NATO.
(Reporting by Andrius Sytas, editing by Terje Solsvik and Barbara Lewis)