Runaway ship Newnew Polar Bear, suspected of sabotage in Baltic Sea, is sailing into Russian Arctic waters
The container ship that is suspected of having damaged a gas pipeline and two communication cables in the Baltic Sea on the 25th of October left the north Russian port of Arkhangelsk with course towards Arctic waters.
The Newnew Polar Bear will this week sail across the Kara Sea and make it through the icy strait of Vilkitsky. Escorted by a Russian state-owned icebreaker it will subsequently sail eastwards along the North Siberian coast towards the Bering Strait and into Pacific waters.
Shortly before setting out from Arkhangelsk, the shipowners got an updated sailing permission for the Northern Sea Route. While a previous permission allowed sailing on the remote and icy Arctic route only until the 31st of October, the new permission lasts until the 15th of November.
Furthermore, the permission issued by the Northern Sea Route Administration, a body subordinated Russia’s state nuclear power company Rosatom, shows that the name of the ship operator has changed. While the former permission named the operator as Hainan Xin Xin Yang Shipping Co, Ltd, the updated document is addressed to Torgmoll, a Russian-registered company with offices in Moscow and Shanghai.
According to Torgmoll’s website, the company is specialising on logistics between China and Europe, and is keenly interested in developing Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative. The company is represented with a member in the Russian-Chinese Business Forum, and is headed by Yelena V. Maksimova.
Judging from a Russian business registry, Maksimova is connected with Ke Jin, a representative of the NewNew Shipping Line in Russia.
Speaking at a conference in Moscow this summer, Ke Jin said that NewNew Shipping Line planned to put five ships to sea on a container route between ports in Russia and China in 2023 with transit through the Northern Sea Route (NSR).
“NewNew Shipping Line has always been a reliable partner in logistics [and] for the period of navigation through the NSR in 2023, we plan to put 4 ships on the Ports of St. Petersburg and Kaliningrad-Ports of China route, as well as one ship on the Port of Arkhangelsk-Ports of China route,” he said according to Interfax.
“With the powerful support of Rosatom and the Main Northern Sea Route, we are confident that we will successfully complete the passage along the NSR,” he added.
The company’s 169 meter long Hong Kong-registered Newnew Polar Bear indeed sailed the Arctic route from China to Europe in late September this year.
Today, only a month later, the ship is on the run.
According to the Finnish National Bureau of Investigation, available data and evidence clearly indicates that the Newnew Polar Bear is to blame for the damage to the underwater infrastructure inflicted on the 8th of October. In a press conference this week, General Head of Investigation Detective Superintendent Risto Lohi described how a 1,5 to 4 metre-wide dragging trail is seen leading to the point of damage in the gas pipeline.
Few meters from the pipeline damage point, the investigators found an anchor that is believed to belong to the Newnew Polar Bear. Suspicions are strengthened by the fact that recent photos show that the vessel now actually is lacking one of its anchors.
Finnish authorities would have arrested the ship had it not been in international waters.
“We were constantly on alert to act, if the vessel had entered the Finnish territorial waters,” Risto Lohi said in the press conference. He underlines that Finnish authorities still hopes to take action against the ship and that contact with Chinese authorities has been established.
“A lot of things can still be done,” Lohi said.
Shipping data show that the Newnew Polar Bear on the 3rd of October made port call in Kaliningrad, and then on the 6th of October arrived in the nearby naval base of Baltiisk. The ship subsequently sailed to St.Petersburg where it arrived on the 8th of October, the same day as the gas pipeline is reported to have been damaged. On October the 13th, the ship was back in Kaliningrad. It departed on the same day and arrived in Arkhangelsk on the 21st of October.
On its way north, it sailed together with Rosatom’s nuclear powered container ship Sevmorput.