Vantage | Did China sabotage Europe’s undersea gas pipeline?


Tensions are escalating in Europe, but not due to conflicts in the Red Sea. The focus is on a different battleground – the undersea pipelines critical to the continent’s energy security. In October 2023, the Baltic Connector, a 77-kilometre gas pipeline running beneath the Baltic Sea between Finland and Estonia, fell victim to sabotage, sparking concerns and investigations.
Gas leakage from the Baltic Connector caused a sudden drop in pressure leading to the discovery of damaged parts that necessitated the pipeline’s closure for repairs. Adding to the complexity, adjacent telecom cables were also severed, intensifying the concerns of the Finnish authorities. As a NATO member, Finland, having joined the alliance just the previous year, suspected foul play and initiated a thorough investigation.
Finnish police focussed their investigation on a Chinese cargo ship that was in close proximity to the pipeline during the incident. The ship was suspected of using its anchor as a weapon, dragging the massive 6,000-kilogram anchor across the Baltic seabed, damaging both cables and gas lines. The Finnish minister for Europe, Anders Adlercreutz, expressed scepticism, stating that it’s hard to believe the sabotage was accidental or without Beijing’s knowledge.
China’s response and European reaction
In response to Finland’s accusations, China maintained communication with relevant parties and claimed an ongoing investigation. However, European nations, unconvinced by China’s assurances, responded with a show of force. A joint coalition, named the Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF), consisting of ten countries, including the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, five Nordic countries, and three Baltic nations, was mobilised to safeguard undersea infrastructure.
The JEF’s primary objective is to protect undersea infrastructure, and in November 2023, Britain deployed seven Royal Navy ships for patrols and joint exercises. Europe, recognising the strategic importance of undersea pipelines and cables, is intensifying its defence measures against potential threats.
The sabotage of the Baltic Connector follows a previous attack on the Nord Stream pipelines in 2022. Underwater explosions targeted the Nord Stream One and Nord Stream Two pipelines, supplying gas from Russia to Germany. The Nord Stream attack, attributed to Ukraine in a report, served as a warning for Europe, highlighting the vulnerability of critical undersea assets.
Economic impact and connectivity threats
With approximately 27 per cent of the world’s pipelines in Europe supplying oil and gas, the region’s dependence on these infrastructure components is immense. Additionally, 17 undersea cables connect Europe to North America, carrying vital communications and financial transactions daily. The potential disruption of these cables would have profound consequences on the Western economy, causing disruptions to the internet, connectivity and significant financial repercussions.
As Europe grapples with the aftermath of the Baltic Connector sabotage, the continent is increasingly aware of the vulnerabilities associated with its undersea infrastructure. The rising threat of seabed warfare has prompted collaborative efforts among European nations to protect critical assets, signalling a new era of strategic defence in response to evolving geopolitical challenges.


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