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Estonia navy chief resigns over alcohol, cigarettes smuggling scandal

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Sandown-class minehunter EML Sakala

Sandown-class minehunter EML Sakala

The Estonian navy’s commander has resigned after a warship engaged in active NATO operations was found to be smuggling alcohol and cigarettes in the Baltic Sea.

On Wednesday, Sten Sepper announced that he was taking full responsibility for the 56 crates of undeclared cigarettes and 1,000 liters of liquor that were discovered on the Sakala minesweeper earlier in the month.

Estonia has not yet revealed the precise location of where the contraband was found or where it was headed for, but it has announced that the smuggled goods were seized by customs officers while the ship was active in NATO’s Mine Countermeasures Group.

“The navy chief has decided to resign due to the damage to reputation accompanying the unacceptable event, irrespective of where the opened criminal case and official investigation will lead,” said Estonian Defense Minister Hannes Hanso.

Sepper (seen below) is to remain in service as a senior staff officer, while the Sakala’s captain has been demoted to a desk job.

Estonia navy chief

Estonia navy chief

The incident comes at a time when NATO is planning to send “battle groups” consisting of 40,000 forces to Poland, Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia, marking the biggest military buildup near Russia since the Second World War.

The US-led military alliance has been deploying troops and equipment close to Russia’s borders since it suspended all ties with Moscow in April 2014 in the wake of the Crimean peninsula’s reintegration into the Russian Federation following a referendum in March that year.

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