Scandinavian and Baltic states have increased their levels of surveillance and monitoring ever since it became clear that the breaches in the Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 pipes early this week were caused by explosions.
Since the afternoon of September 27th Swedish Coast Guard SAR vessel KBV 003-Amfitrite (IMO 9380465) has been in the position of the two leaks in the Swedish economic zone. The crew reported that the gas flow seen on the surface was constant. On board, they have two main tasks:
- Monitor the discharge to see if it decreases or increases
- Assist shipping to secure maritime traffic
The Swedish Coast Guard has also sent rescue divers to the ship. Their task is to assist potential accident victims rather than work on the leak itself.
On Thursday Sweden reported finding a new leak on Nord Stream 2, very close to a larger leak found earlier on Nord Stream 1.
The leaks took place in international waters but within the Swedish economic zone. A preliminary investigation is therefore being led by Swedish prosecutors and the Swedish police authority was investigating. It has requested assistance from the Swedish Coast Guard, which said that it was in close contact with other relevant authorities, in Sweden and abroad. Contact has been established with representatives of Nord Stream.
After the three leaks were reported in the Nord Stream 1 pipeline north-east of the island of Bornholm and the Nord Stream 2 pipeline south-east of Dueodde on Bornholm, Danish frigate Absalon (F341) (IMO 9284441), environmental control ship Gunnar Thorson (A560) (IMO 7924061) from Lysekil and corvette patrol vessel Rota (P525) (IMO 4537128) and an SAR helicopter were sent to the scene by the Danish defence.
After the Swedish National Seismic Network recorded two events with “massive energy releases” where gas was currently leaking from the pipelines in an uncontrolled manner, a seismologist from Uppsala University stated that the cause “can only be an explosion”.
The shipping authorities of the Denmark and Sweden have issued navigation warnings and set up restricted zones.
The Christian Radich (IMO 5071729) passed the Nord Stream 2 pipeline shortly after the explosion during the evening of September 26th. The crew could not see anything out there because it was dark, but according to the radar it was clear that there was unusual activity at sea. The ship, which was on its way from Oslo to Gotland, was directly over the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline when two unusual points suddenly appeared on the radar screen, indicating something lying on the surface.
They were also in contact with another ship that made observations in the area and then decided to change course. As of September 29th the vessel was heading for Visby, Sweden, ETA September 30th.
The crew also noted a foul smell of gas.
Russian state-owned Gazprom is the majority owner of Nord Stream 1 and 2, along with minority partners Wintershall Dea, E.ON, Gasunie and Engie. Gazprom also owns the majority of the gas that would be transported through the pipelines if they were operational; with three out of four pipelines damaged.
Although Ukraine was quick to pin the blame on Russia, the partial destruction of $20bn worth of capital investment would be something of a downside for the Kremlin.
Western political leaders and analysts pointed out however that, as a demonstration of capability and will, an attack on the pipelines could be viewed as a powerful and carefully-timed threat to European energy security – including other pipelines or infrastructure, undersea or under land.
Another good reason to suspect Russia is that not many other countries would have the capability to pull off an attack of this scale in such a well-monitored, strategic location in Northern Europe.
“Only Russia can really be considered for this, especially since it stands to gain the most from this act of sabotage,” said Gerhard Schindler, the ex-head of Germany’s top spy agency, in an interview with Welt. “An unnoticed, conspiratorial damage to pipelines at a depth of 80 metres in the Baltic Sea requires sophisticated technical and organizational capabilities that clearly point to a state actor.”
An unnamed UK security official told The Times that Russia could have dispatched a UUV to place explosive devices on the pipeline in a “premeditated and planned for” operation, days or weeks ahead of the event – then triggered the blast when ready.
The US was also capable of such an act, although the location of the explosions would have made this logistically challenging. Russia’s government has indeed blamed the Biden administration for the blasts, an accusation dismissed by the US as “preposterous”.
The incidents looked like “an act of terrorism” and required investigation in cooperation with a number of countries, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Thursday. US news channel CNN, citing three sources, reported that European security officials had observed Russian navy support ships and submarines not far from the sites of the Nord Stream leaks. Asked for a comment on the CNN report, Peskov said there had been a much larger NATO presence in the area.
2010-built, Sweden-flagged, 3,804 gt KBV 003 is owned and managed by Sweden Govt Kustbevakningen of Karlskrona, Sweden. As of September 29th it was patrolling in the Baltic Sea.
1981-built, Denmark-flagged, 1,211 Gunnar Thorson is owned by the Danish Ministry of Defence of Copenhagen, and managed by Denmark Govt Sovaernets of Braband. As of September 29th it was moored at Roenne, Denmark.
2009-built, Denmark-flagged, 304 gt Rota is owned and managed by Denmark Govt Sovaernets of Braband.