Nord Stream mystery: the tanker Minerva Julie spent 7 days idling near the attack site

In this Handout Photo provided by Swedish Coast Guard, the release of gas emanating from a leak on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline in the Baltic Sea on September 27, 2022 in At Sea
Gas bubbles up from a rupture in the Nord Stream 2 pipeline on September 27. Nearly six months later, the identity of the saboteurs remains unknown.Swedish Coast Guard via Getty Images
  • Days before the explosions, a tanker called the Minerva Julie was drifting nearby in the Baltic Sea.

  • The ship's curious stopover could interest investigators looking for witnesses.

  • The Julie's owners told Insider that the tanker had stopped "while awaiting her next voyage instructions."

The question of who blew up the Nord Stream pipelines is likely to remain an unsolved mystery for some time.

Even as new details surface from European investigators, one of the most intriguing clues to recently emerge comes not from official probes but via a 29-year-old open-source analyst based in Denmark. Oliver Alexander spent months analyzing data from the maritime Automatic Identification System, or AIS, from vessels that passed near the site of three out of the four pipeline ruptures shortly before the damage. He noticed that the Minerva Julie, a 600-foot Greek-flagged tanker, was headed east from Rotterdam when, on September 6, it came to an abrupt stop in the middle of the Baltic Sea.

path of the Minerva Julie
From September 6 through September 13, the Minerva Julie drifted near the site of the September 26 explosions, AIS data show.MarineTraffic with annotations by Insider.

The Minerva Julie stayed there, alternately idling and crossing a roughly 200-square-nautical-mile area above the two natural-gas pipelines, for seven days, from September 6 until September 12. From there, the Julie traveled on to Tallinn, Estonia before anchoring at Saint Petersburg, Russia on September 18. Then, on September 26, the two pipelines burst.

The Minerva Julie's proximity to the attack site was first reported by Verkkouutiset, a Finnish media outlet. The coincidence has sparked a wave of speculation online among a committed group of amateur sleuths and maritime experts. At the same time, it's difficult to imagine that the official investigators tasked with getting to the truth of the Nord Stream sabotage wouldn't want to know more about the Minerva Julie since the vessel spent a week circling above what was about to become a massive geopolitical crime scene. The data uncovered by Alexander does not indicate that the vessel was in any way involved with the destruction of the pipelines. It does, however, raise the question of what the crew might have witnessed.

In an emailed statement to Insider, a spokesperson for Minerva Marine confirmed the Julie's location over the 7-day period, and said that the vessel had stopped "while awaiting her next voyage instructions," in accordance with "standard shipping practice." The statement did not say whether Minerva had been contacted by investigators. It said the company "always been and remains at the disposal of all competent public authorities in respect to any inquiry, acting always in a legitimate and transparent manner."

Investigators say the Nord Stream breakage was an act of sabotage, caused by what they've estimated to be hundreds of pounds of military-grade explosives attached to the pipelines at around 80 meters in depth, or roughly 260 feet. The undersea pipelines were financed by a consortium of companies from Russia, Germany, France, and the Netherlands. The pipelines bypassed Ukraine to deliver Russian natural gas directly to Germany.

Alexander found that the three explosions, marked below by black darts, occurred almost exactly where the Julie had taken its long pause a few days before. To date, there is no indication that either the Minerva Julie's owners or its crew are the subject of the investigations, which reports suggest are focusing on a rented yacht.

Insider verified Alexander's findings regarding the Julie's location using MarineTraffic, which compiles global AIS data from the location transponders used by commercial shipping vessels. Not all vessels show up on AIS databases, and the data can be vulnerable to manipulation.

European investigators have reportedly linked the pipeline attacks to a rented boat. The yacht, believed to be a 50-foot sailboat equipped with a 75-horsepower engine, is said to have embarked on September 6, the same day the Minerva Julie stopped at the future site of the explosions. Authorities reportedly searched the yacht where they found traces of explosives. On Thursday, Der Spiegel identified that yacht as the Andromeda. Several photos of the Andromeda were posted to Twitter on Thursday by Aric Toler, a researcher at Bellingcat.

Among the questions raised by the Minerva Julie's AIS locational data is whether the tanker came into contact with the smaller Andromeda. While floating near the attack site, to northeast of the island of Bornholm, the Julie's pilothouse would likely have had a visibility of roughly 10 to 15 miles. It's unclear whether investigators have obtained the Julie's logbook, navigational charts or radar history, which could have records of activity around the attack sites during that seven-day period.

For the Julie to suddenly pause for seven days in the midst of a voyage, immediately above the future attack site, is a striking coincidence, perhaps the most serious case of a vessel being at the wrong place and time since the container ship Ever Given ran aground in the middle of the Suez Canal, blocking traffic for six days in 2021.

But an innocuous explanation for the Julie's whereabouts is far from impossible, shipping experts told Insider.

"Ships don't always go full speed from point A to point B," said Steve Richter, a marine consultant and veteran docking pilot. "For example, if a ship is bound for a refinery in Philadelphia, they might not have a berth available for them. So they might drift slowly to kill time off the coast of Delaware on their way up the coast. At the same time, it is uncommon for a tank ship to stop enroute and sail in a circle, unless they have a change in orders or perhaps a mechanical issue onboard."

A second shipping expert told Insider that the Julie could have been awaiting orders about where to go next. "From where I sit, it's likely that there was only one vessel involved in the attack, and hundreds of others in the area," they said. "In other words, there is a large volume of hay. Is this the needle? Could be, but it isn't likely."

Minerva Julie
The Minerva Julie, a 600-foot oil and chemical tanker, near the port of Rotterdam in 2020.Alf van Beem / Wikimedia Commons

The Julie would be an unlikely choice for saboteurs, as the tanker self-reported its position throughout. And to be sure, the Julie has not been named by any details yet public from the ongoing probes.

For Alexander, the close proximity of the Julie to the explosion in both space and time warrants further scrutiny. He he told Insider: "To me, it's too much of a coincidence."

Various reports have tried to attribute the attacks to Americans, Russians, Ukrainians, and pro-Ukrainian irregulars. All three countries have denied involvement. After a meeting early last year with the German chancellor, President Joe Biden promised to "bring an end" to the Nord Stream 2, should Russia move ahead with what was then an apparent plan to cross the border into Ukraine, which it did in late February 2022. For now, the best evidence of who was behind the attacks is in the hands of authorities from Sweden, Germany, and Denmark, which all have ongoing investigations into the sabotage.

Update: This story has been updated to credit Finnish outlet Verkkouutiset for reporting in September about the Minerva Julie's track.

Mattathias Schwartz is a senior correspondent at Insider and a contributing writer at the New York Times Magazine. He can be reached at and

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