German authorities investigating blasts that tore through the Nord Stream natural-gas pipelines last year have identified a boat manned by a six-member crew that they say could have been involved in a sabotage operation, according to a senior government official.
A summary report on the probe compiled for senior German officials said the vessel, a sport sailing boat, was rented in northern Germany days before the blasts by the six people, some of whom presented Ukrainian passports as identification, the official said.
The boat docked in the port of Wiek on the German island of Rügen and on the Danish island of Christianso, close to the blast sites, according to the official, who saw the report.
Ukrainian officials have denied any involvement in the explosions.
The report is based primarily on a continuing probe by the Federal Criminal Office, or BKA, Germany’s equivalent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which is handling the investigation on behalf of German federal prosecutors.
German weekly Die Zeit reported this week on some details of the boat and its crew.
On Wednesday, U.S. officials said they were investigating the possibility that a pro-Ukraine group was responsible for the blasts.
Other Western officials with knowledge of the investigation say the picture remains too vague to point to an obvious culprit and that signs suggesting some Ukrainian involvement may have been deliberately planted by the authors of the suspected attack to cover their tracks.
European authorities are investigating an attack on two Nord Stream pipelines.
German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius warned Wednesday against drawing conclusions about the identities of the crew or its backers. He said the people could have Ukraine links, but also that it could have been a Russian operation designed to cast blame on Kyiv.
The German report said investigators found no evidence the crew had planted the explosives that severely damaged the pipelines. They said the scale of the operation possibly meant more than six people would have been involved.
According to the report, the blasts were carried out using a total of up to about 500 kilograms of explosives. Investigators initially believed the substance used was TNT because of residues initially found at the explosion site. Some investigators now think these traces may have come from contact with unexploded World War II ordnance that litters the sea bed in the area, the official said.
Some investigators think another possible substance for such an underwater blast would be Semtex, the German official said, not referring to the report.
Traces of explosives were found on the boat, according to the government official with knowledge of the summary. The official said it was unclear of what type.
German federal prosecutors said Wednesday that investigators had searched a vessel in connection with the Nord Stream blasts between Jan. 18 and 20. They said they suspected the boat had been used to transport explosives but said investigators hadn’t identified those involved in the attack.
The German investigators believe that more than one team could have been involved, according to the summary. This is because it would have been difficult for six people on one boat to have planted all the explosives that damaged three Nord Stream pipes. While the rented yacht was capable of carrying the necessary amount of explosives, it would be difficult—though not impossible—for a small crew to place them on all the sites quickly using only basic equipment, the investigators concluded.
Divers must breathe a special oxygen mixture at a depth of 80 meters and working in those conditions for even several minutes would require them to undergo a relatively lengthy decompression before they surfaced.
The administrator of Christianso said he had received a request from Danish police in December 2022 asking for any records of boats that had entered the main harbor between Sept. 16 and 18, a little over a week before the pipelines blew up.
Soren Thiim Andersen, the administrator, said the police returned to Christianso in January to look at data from a machine on the harbor on which visitors register their boats and to interview a few local residents.
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Appeared in the March 10, 2023, print edition as ‘Nord Stream Blast Probe Turns Focus To Sailboat, Crew.’