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Denmark and Sweden quietly launched criminal investigations this week into the Nord Stream gas pipeline explosions. The location of the crime, at a depth of about 80 meters in the middle of the Baltic Sea, makes the investigation very complicated.
The fear in Scandinavia is that Russia will disrupt the investigation. According to Fredrik Harhoff, professor of international law at Sedansk University in the Danish city of Odense, it will be difficult. “There is no legislation for seafloor vandalism. So, first come first serve,” he says.
It’s Tuesday, September 27, when multiple leaks were recorded in the Nord Stream 1 and 2 offshore gas pipelines. Four large holes were discovered in gas pipelines located at the bottom of the Baltic Sea between Russia and Germany.
Disbelief is great: a small leak can still occur due to the towing of the ship’s anchor. But many large holes in different pipelines can not be a coincidence. The spots where the mysterious holes were discovered are located southeast and northeast of the Danish island of Bornholm. Officially, they are located in international waters, but they belong to the exclusive economic zones of Denmark and Sweden.
On the same evening, the head of the Swedish Seismological Institute said that the eruptions occurred on the sea floor at the site of the holes. Shortly thereafter, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen became the first head of government who is talking sabotage.
Searching in a very black environment
In the following days, the whole world watches the absurd picture of a giant Jacuzzi in the Baltic Sea. Before the probe can begin, all gas must first flow out. Denmark and Sweden launched their criminal investigation in the strictest secrecy this week.
In Denmark, this investigation is led by the Copenhagen Police, in Sweden by the Security Service. “In principle, criminal investigations take place like they do on the ground,” says Fredrik Harhoff, who has served for years as a judge at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. “Among other things, they are looking for pieces of metal, plastic or other materials from explosives and for gunpowder residue.”
The big problem is that the search takes place at a depth of about 80 meters in a very black environment. That is why drones or small submarines must be used. With no legislation in place for seabed research, things are at risk of chaos. “The one with the best equipment can get there as quickly as possible. In that sense, Russia is in a better position than Denmark and Sweden,” Harhoff says.
Russians without GPS signals
According to Harhoff, Russia has the right to conduct its own investigation because the Nordstream pipelines are owned by Russia’s Gazprom. Russian naval ships sail around Kattegat, about 35 kilometers from the Danish coast. This leads to unrest in Scandinavia. Because according to many military analysts in the West, Russia is the likely culprit. The two Russian naval vessels in the Baltic Sea have turned off their GPS signals so that they cannot be tracked from land.
Harhoff finds it unlikely that hard evidence will be found in the Baltic Sea. He defends an international criminal court as in The Hague, but specifically for crimes on the seabed.
“It is certainly not inconceivable that this will happen again. That is why an independent judiciary must be established, which can react quickly and ensure that the criminal investigation proceeds in an orderly manner. Of course there will be countries that boycott such an initiative. But we must try to respond to this type New crimes at the bottom of the sea.”
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