The damaged Balticconnector pipeline between Estonia and Finland has been in the spotlight this past week. ETV show "Impulss" joined the Estonian Navy on a patrol of the spontaneous anchorage near the island of Vaindloo off the northern coast of Estonia for a glimpse of dozens of oil tankers that gather there.
The "Impulss" film crew boarded the Navy's newest patrol boat Raju in Viinistu. The 45-meter vessel, built in Saaremaa in 2018, is one of four Estonian Navy patrol boats that act as its eyes in the Gulf of Finland. Raju is under the command of Lt. Mark Keek. Twenty-three ships are registered in that part of Estonia's exclusive economic zone near the island of Vaindloo on the day, including oil tankers and freighters.
While giant vessels were often anchored off Loksa before the Ukraine war started, their numbers have recently swelled to 20 or more on a given day. The likely reason is that a lot of goods moving to Russia now do so by sea because of sanctions. While large cargo ships have every right to linger in Estonia's exclusive economic zone, they are not allowed to drop anchor over critical infrastructure.
The ships lay anchored in the area until port officials in Russia allow them to approach. Some spend just a few days in Estonia's economic waters, while others can sit there for months.
Tarmo Sepp, head of the Navy's patrol ships division, explained why the area needs to have an eye kept on it. "Usually, we are talking about involuntary fuel or wastewater dumps."
One such incident was reported in early April when a Finnish aerial reconnaissance plane spotted an oil spill in the area. While models suggested the pollution may have originated from a Liberian oil tanker, a visit on board and comparing test samples quickly ruled it out.
Commander Keek said that storm winds can overcome ship anchors' ability to keep them stationary and send vessels adrift, which creates the danger of collissions.
A stone's throw from Gogland, which hosts a Russian military base and a powerful radar, a Russian tugboat named Taurus is discovered in Estonia's exclusive economic zone.
"Impulss" later finds out that the Taurus was on its way from Kronstadt to Kaliningrad. The vessel was towing what looked like a floating dock, while similar boats have been used in the past to transport ship parts.
Estonian patrol boats always keep an eye on such vessels. "We have intelligence reports on them and maintain a list of vessels we keep a closer eye on," Tarmo Sepp said.
But the Navy also has eyes underwater. "Impulss" got the chance to see the Navy's high-tech submersibles before minehunter Sakala went back out to sea on October 16 to try and locate where a communications cable has been severed. The most expensive unmanned underwater vehicle or UUV at the Navy's disposal is the yellow Remus, which costs half a million euros.
But the search for the broken communications cable is aided by ROV UUVs, which can dive to a depth of 300 meters in a situation where the Navy can only send divers down 55 meters. The robot is piloted using a fiber-optic cable and equipped with powerful lights, camera and sonar. "It is one of our best tools for getting a picture of the seafloor," Janter Suun, the diving group's sonar specialist told ERR.
Editor: Marcus Turovski