Photos show Russian ships were close to Nord Stream sabotage site four days before explosions

Brian Whitaker
3 min readApr 18, 2023

The Danish navy has confirmed that it took photographs of Russian ships in the Baltic Sea close to an area where explosions ruptured Nord Stream gas pipelines four days later.

The patrol vessel Nymfen took 112 photos of the Russian ships but the Danish Defence Command says it will not be releasing the images, citing their “intelligence value”.

This followed a request from the Danish newspaper Dagbladet Information for access “to the photos and video recordings of Russian vessels” taken from the Nymfen on September 22 last year. Although the Danish navy has photos it says there are no videos.

Shortly after midnight on September 21, three Russian vessels — the SS-750 rescue ship and two rescue tugboats, the Aleksandr Frolov and SB-123, left Baltiysk naval base in Kaliningrad Oblast. These are of particular interest because their on-board equipment could potentially have been useful for planting explosives. The two tugs have lifting equipment while the larger SS-750 rescue ship carries AS-26, a Priz-class mini-submarine.

Russian rescue ship SS-750. The red-and-white mini-submarine can be seen at its stern (Source: topwar.ru)

The red-and-white striped Priz class vessels have a range of 21 nautical miles and can dive to 1,000 metres (see video). They are designed mainly to rescue trapped submariners and can carry 20 passengers as well as a crew of four. They also have manipulator arms that can reportedly lift up to 50kg.

A Russian Priz-class mini-submarine. Credit: Mil.ru

Tracking systems turned off

The SS-750 was travelling “dark” with its Automatic Identification System (AIS) turned off, but the two tugs believed to be accompanying it kept their AIS turned on for a while. It showed them heading west, in the direction of the Danish island of Bornholm.

The Aleksandr Frolov tug was the last to turn off its AIS, at 14.22 on September 21. At that point it was 45 nautical miles from the sabotage area northeast of Bornholm, which it could have reached by about 19.30 — half an hour after sunset — if it continued at its previous speed.

At 19.50 on September 21 Denmark dispatched the P524 Nymfen patrol vessel, apparently to investigate. It arrived around 06.15 the following morning.

Movements of the Danish patrol vessel Nymfen on September 22 last year. Yellow markers show sites where explosions occurred four days later.

AIS tracking data shows the Nymfen made a series of manouevres which suggest it was monitoring activity in the area. The data is incomplete because the patrol ship’s AIS was turned off for some of the time. By early afternoon it had left the area and was heading towards Bornholm.

The existence of photographs taken by the Nymfen on September 22 is clear evidence that Russian vessels were close to the sabotage area, even if the Danish authorities are unwilling to name them or release the pictures.

What the Russians were doing there remains to be seen but if their activity was innocent it would be good to have a clear explanation so as to eliminate them from suspicion as soon as possible.

Note: Information about the Danish and Russian ships’ movements was compiled mainly by OSINT analyst Oliver Alexander. Two Substack articles (here and here) explain how he obtained it. Alexander also worked with the German news portal T-Online, which has articles here and here.

CHECK HERE for regular updates about the Nord Stream affair

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Brian Whitaker

Former Middle East editor of the Guardian. Website: www.al-bab.com. Author of 'Arabs Without God'.