A group of European news organisations jointly investigating the sabotage of the Nord Stream underwater gas pipelines have uncovered new information about a yacht that was behaving suspiciously in the area.
The German authorities have been taking a particular interest in a group of six people aboard the 15-metre Andromeda which was hired from a marina in the German port of Rostock. The group is said to have consisted of a captain, two divers, two diving assistants and a doctor. They spent two weeks in the Baltic Sea last September, returning just a few days before Nord Stream was blown up.
The Andromeda crew were early suspects but in February American journalist Seymour Hersh published an article claiming the US attacked with assistance from Norway. Hersh’s article was based on anonymous sources and independent fact-checking has shown the attack could not have been carried out in the way described by Hersh even if the US was behind it. More recently, open-source investigations have revealed suspicious naval activity by Russia four days before the explosions.
German authorities say traces of explosive were found on a table in the yacht’s cabin but it’s doubtful whether the Andromeda crew could have sabotaged Nord Stream unaided. It seems unlikely they could have transported and positioned the large quantity of explosives reportedly involved.
But whatever the Andromeda crew were up to, it was clearly not legitimate.
The most startling suggestion among the latest media reports is that one crew member — who was using a fake Romanian passport — may actually be a Ukrainian soldier.
According to the German TV programme Tagesschau, German investigators believe the man, in his mid-20s, is from a town south-east of Kiev. Tagesschau adds that his name is known to the reporting team but does not explain how he has been linked to the Andromeda affair.
“The young Ukrainian is said to have previously served in an infantry unit. Investigators are apparently following other names and clues. It should be the hottest tracks so far.
“Only one of the young man’s relatives can be reached on the phone: she says he is currently serving in the military. Sometimes he calls. But she says: He didn’t leave Ukraine last fall.”
The Swedish newspaper Expressen adds that the man does not appear to have updated his social media profiles since 2017. “In photos on old social media accounts, he is seen in Ukrainian uniform and also with weapons. The man has two distinct tattoos, one on his arm and the other on the top of his hand.” On one of his social media profiles, he follows “a Ukrainian nationalist organisation”.
The yacht had been hired by a company registered in Poland and further investigation by German, Danish, Swedish and Polish media has now provided more details. A report in the Swedish newspaper Expressen identifies the company as Feeria Lwowa, ostensibly a travel firm.
A check at its registered address in Warsaw led to a small office where a law firm receives and forwards mail on behalf of Feeria Lwowa and 128 other companies.
Expressen’s article continues:
“For several years, the company has had little or no turnover. But in 2020, in the middle of the pandemic, turnover suddenly increased by 1,200 percent to the equivalent of SEK 37 million ($3.5 million).
“In the same year, the company also changed owners. The new owner is a 32-year-old woman from the city of Kerch on the occupied Crimean peninsula. In the Polish company documents, she has used her Ukrainian passport — but our review of Russian databases shows that the woman changed her name several years ago and now also has Russian citizenship. She works for a Russian authority in the city. On a Ukrainian war criminals website, she is listed as a traitor because of her collaboration with the occupying power.
“The woman says by phone that she does not know that she owns the company and denies any connection.”
Expressen adds that the director of the company is a 55-year-old Ukrainian woman registered in Kyiv. Contacted by phone, she admitted being the company’s director but declined to answer further questions. She has also not replied to questions sent by email.
Germany, Denmark and Sweden are all carrying out official — but apparently separate — investigations into the Nord Stream affair. The German investigators appear to be leaning towards blaming the Andromeda and, according to Expressen, they now seem to have ruled out Russia as the culprit:
“The Russian ships observed in the area of the sabotage in the months before the explosions are no longer considered interesting by the German investigators.
“According to sources, the Russian ships have been able to be excluded from the investigation — their positions have been mapped and the conclusion must be that they have not been in such a place that they could have carried out the deed.”
However, that conflicts with the evidence that Russian warships were in the relevant area four days before the explosions — in particular, the 119 photos of them taken by the Danish navy (which the Danish navy is refusing to release).
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