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The Nord Stream Andromeda Story: What We Know and What We Don’t
A look at what we know about the recent development regarding a chartered yacht, Andromeda, as well as the questions posed by this supposed series of events.
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Two days ago, The New York Times published an article in which an anonymous US official suggested that the operation to sabotage the Nord Stream pipelines may have been conducted by a pro-Ukrainian group. Unfortunately this article contained very little verifiable new information with no concrete details that could in anyway be investigated further.
“U.S. officials declined to disclose the nature of the intelligence, how it was obtained or any details of the strength of the evidence it contains.”
Shortly thereafter Zeit published an article with an investigation they had done providing more details. This article lays out that a group of 6 unidentified people, possibly from a pro-Ukrainian group, used high quality fake passports and chartered a yacht in Rostock on September 6th before heading to place explosives at the Nord Stream sabotage sites. The yacht reportedly made a stop in Weick and on Chrisitansø as part of the trip. The yacht was later searched by the German authorities and traces of explosives were found. The article also stated that the charter was paid for by a Polish company owned by two Ukrainians.
Over the last two days, parts of this story have been corroborated, while other parts have raised further questions. Initially we can look at the aspects of the story that can be corroborated.
The Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet confirmed that police had conducted an investigation on the island of Christiansø and was looking for a specific vessel that was docked on the island between the 16th and 18th September.
SPIEGEL Politik released an article that gave a detailed description of the yacht involved in the investigation. In this article it is stated that the yacht was over 15 meters long, had 5 cabins, could accommodate 11 people and cost just under 3000 Euros a week to rent. They also stated that the yacht was rented out by a company from Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany.
This information made it possible to narrow the search down to two vessels out of the Hohe Düne marina in Rostock, rented out by Mola Yachting GmbH. These two vessels are both Bavaria Cruiser 50 yachts. These yachts are 15.57 meters long, can accommodate 11 people in 5 cabins and cost 2998 Euros a week to rent for the time period in September. Unfortunately according to the Mola Yachting website, these two yachts are not equipped with an AIS (Automatic Identification System), which means that the movements cannot be tracked using ship tracking site like MarineTraffic.
This could then be further narrowed down to the specific vessel the “Andromeda” through the help of several sources with knowledge of the investigation. This has now been publicly confirmed by the SPIEGEL. The Andromeda can be seen in this 2017 video from Yacht TV.
Knowing the vessel, a hole in the Zeit story became apparent. In the article it is claimed that the yacht was spotted in Wieck auf dem Darß on the 7th September. Looking at nautical charts of the area, this would be highly unlikely as the Wieck auf dem Darß harbor only has a depth of 1.4m while a Bavaria Cruiser 50 has a draft of 2.25m.
This inconsistency was further reinforced after Ostsee Zeitung interviewed the harbormaster at Wieck auf dem Darß where he stated that he had never been contacted by the authorities and suspected that there had been a mix-up. This left the more suitable marina of Wiek on the island of Rügen as the more likely candidate. This has today been confirmed by WELT after interviewing the harbormaster at Wiek who could confirm that they had been previously contacted by authorities regarding the situation.
This error has now been edited and corrected to Wiek, Rügen in the Zeit story, though it raises questions as to how the story went ahead with this rather large error.
The Zeit article and overall story leaves many unanswered questions including several of the points that are used to point at a pro-Ukrainian group. It is stated that the group has been professionally trained and used very high quality fake passports during the operation to protect their identity. At the same time though the boat charter was reportedly paid for by a Polish company owned by two Ukrainians leaving a very direct link back to Ukraine. It is also stated that the yacht was returned “uncleaned” after the charter, which undoubtably aided the authorities in finding explosive residue inside the boat on the table. For a highly sophisticated operation carried out with focus on secrecy and apparent subterfuge, why did the team involved decide to be so careless at this pivotal final moment as to not clean the yacht prior to returning it?
The Times wrote another piece where they state that the explosives were driven from Poland into Germany. Why would the group acquire explosives in Poland and then risk transporting it over the border to Germany and sail of out Rostock? It would have been safer and logistically easier to set sail from a Polish marina which is also closer to Bornholm and the site of the Nord Stream sabotage. This adds a large amount of increased complexity and risk for no logical reason.
Depending on the amount of explosives used in the sabotage of the Nord Stream pipeline, the size of the vessel can also be questioned. In the article by The New York Times, they mentioned a previous quote from the investigation that stated that up to 500kg of explosives was used at each Nord Stream 1 site. If this is true, that would make the use of a Bavaria Cruiser 50 to perform this sabotage very unlikely. Transporting this amount of explosive on a 15m yacht along with 6 people and large amount of tanks and equipment for the dives would be close to impossible, not to mention the task of moving this amount of explosives from the yacht down to the pipes. Even with a small amount of explosives, performing several technical dives to 80m from a yacht like the Andromeda would be very difficult and highly impractical.
The story also makes no mention of the Greek flagged crude oil carrier the Minerva Julie which circled the area around the Nord Stream 1 explosion sites between the 5th and 13th September. Coincidentally the exact same time as the “Andromeda” would have been in the area placing the charges on the pipes. Using the “Andromeda” to transport the team and possible supplies and meet up with the Minerva Julie sounds like a more plausible scenario to me.
Additionally, the locations of the Nord Stream 1 explosions are in some of the deepest water in the area directly surrounding Bornholm. Why would a non-state actor operating off a 50 foot yacht decide to place the explosives at the most difficult and time-consuming location? The vessel was relatively small and not equipped with active AIS, so there would be hundreds of more accessible locations along the pipes for the saboteurs to place the explosive charges. On top of this, blowing the pipeline towards the deepest point in the area reduces the amount of the pipeline that is flooded and as a result makes it easier and cheaper to repair. The group chose the most difficult area to perform the dive where the damage would be the easiest to repair.
The yacht story does not explain why only three of the four Nord Stream pipes were destroyed and why a single Nord Stream 2 pipe was ruptured approximately 80km away from the location of the two Nord Stream 1 explosions. This is a point I have previously tried to explain with an alternative hypothesis.
All in all, this investigation into the Andromeda adds several interesting details to the story, but also leaves a lot more mystery out there. It is interesting to note that the Russian government is strongly denying this series of events and sticking firmly with the Seymour Hersh story that I have previously debunked. Today Dmitry Peskov was quoted saying “As for some kind of pro-Ukrainian" Dr. Evil ", who organized all this, it's hard to believe in it.” This raises some questions as to why Russia is so keen to completely dismiss a scenario that implicates Ukraine in the destruction of Nord Stream.