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Undersea cables linking Estonia to Finland and Sweden are suspected of being sabotaged at a time and place when only Chinese and Russian ships were present.

Scott Bicheno

October 24, 2023

2 Min Read
China quizzed over damage to Baltic telecoms cables
P3XRM9 160626-N-ZZ999-002 BARKING SANDS, Hawaii (June 20, 2016) Builder 1st Class Chris Chilton, assigned to Underwater Construction Team (UCT) 2, inspects an underwater cable coil during underwater cable maintenance. UCT 2?s Construction Dive Detachment Bravo (CDDB) is conducting subsea cable maintenance and repair at the Pacific Missile Range Facility. CDDB is on the first stop of their deployment, where they are conducting inspection, maintenance, and repair of various underwater and waterfront facilities in support of the Pacific Fleet. (U.S. Navy photo by Construction Mechanic 3rd Class Ryan Fil

Undersea cables linking Estonia to Finland and Sweden are suspected of being sabotaged at a time and place when only Chinese and Russian ships were present.

The cables were damaged on 8 October but it has taken a while for the investigation to conclude they were probably not accidents. “It has been confirmed that the cable has been damaged through external force or tampering,” said an update from the Swedish government yesterday. “The damage did not affect the function of the cable. The damage occurred within the Estonian economic zone.”

Late last week the Estonian Foreign Ministry issued the following statement. “Today we received confirmation that the damage to the undersea infrastructure between Estonia and Finland was probably man-made, and an investigation is underway to determine the cause of damage to the communications cable between Estonia and Sweden.

“The continuity of Estonia’s critical connections is guaranteed and it is not under threat. Estonia, Finland and Sweden are cooperating closely on investigating the incidents in the Baltic Sea and we are keeping our Allies in NATO and partners in the European Union updated. Together with Allies, we have raised the level of vigilance regarding events in the Baltic Sea, and we have taken steps to protect critical connections in the Baltic Sea. I also welcome NATO’s decision today to send additional patrols to the Baltic Sea, including aircraft, drones and ships.”

Having previously noted that the only two ships sailing in the vicinity of cable damage, at the time it is thought to have happened, were Chinese and Russian container vessels, Reuters reports that Estonia has contacted Chinese authorities as part of its ongoing investigation into the matter. “Estonia has been in contact with Chinese authorities to encourage cooperation concerning the investigation,” an Estonian foreign ministry spokesperson told Reuters.

Meanwhile Al Jazeera reports that China has denied any role in the incident, calling for any investigation to be fair and objective. “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 the time,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning is quoted as saying in the Al Jazeera story.

This isn’t the first time there have been strange goings on of this kind in the Baltic sea. A year ago the Nordstream gas pipelines were damaged by presumed sabotage and it seems a gas pipeline was also damaged this time. We have seen no reporting of attempts to consult Russia as part of the current investigation but this seems to be the latest in a growing trend towards undersea cables being targeted as part of broader geopolitical tensions.

 

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About the Author(s)

Scott Bicheno

As the Editorial Director of Telecoms.com, Scott oversees all editorial activity on the site and also manages the Telecoms.com Intelligence arm, which focuses on analysis and bespoke content.
Scott has been covering the mobile phone and broader technology industries for over ten years. Prior to Telecoms.com Scott was the primary smartphone specialist at industry analyst Strategy Analytics’. Before that Scott was a technology journalist, covering the PC and telecoms sectors from a business perspective.
Follow him @scottbicheno

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