Indonesia steps up search for missing submarine with hours to go before air runs out

Rescuers are racing against time to find the submarine.
Rescuers are racing against time to find the submarine.PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA - Five military personnel from Singapore arrived in Indonesia on Friday (April 23) and joined the search and rescue operation for a missing submarine with 53 crew members on board, with hours to go before its air supply ran out.

More than 20 navy warships – including the KRI Rigel-933, which has sonar capabilities and is used to collect hydro-oceanographic data – and an aircraft were deployed on Friday.

Four vessels from the police and another three from the Indonesia Search and Rescue Agency also scoured the sea north of Bali for the missing KRI Nanggala-402.

International assistance was also mobilised, including the Singapore team on board the KRI Soeharso-990 and Australia’s ship HMAS Ballarat, Indonesian armed forces spokesman Achmad Riad told a press conference at Bali’s Ngurah Rai military airbase.

The KRI Soeharso is a floating hospital with a number of rooms, including those for emergency, intensive care and surgery.

“Up to the present we still can’t locate (the submarine) precisely but, hopefully, with a number of spots (detected) and available equipment, we can find or trace the position of KRI Nanggala-402,” Major-General Achmad said on Friday.

He added that more foreign assets, such as the United States maritime patrol aircraft P8-Poseidon, will arrive soon.

Singapore’s MV Swift Rescue, which left Changi Naval Base on Wednesday afternoon, is expected to arrive early on Saturday.

Indonesia’s navy spokesman Julius Widjojono told the same briefing that Singapore is engaged in the operation as it owns a device that could detect the submarine at the estimated depth.

He earlier said contact with the submarine had likely been lost at 600m to 700m underwater, while by design the vessel could withstand a depth up to 500m.

Malaysia’s submarine rescue ship MV Mega Bakti is scheduled to arrive on Sunday. India has dispatched its deep submergence rescue vessel.

The 44-year-old KRI Nanggala-402 was due to carry out a torpedo drill after it asked for permission to dive early on Wednesday, but contact was then lost.

The navy said a possible power blackout during the static dive may have caused the submarine to lose control and made it unable to perform emergency procedures.

Rescuers were racing against time to find the submarine as its oxygen supply would last 72 hours from the time it went missing, meaning that it is due to run out around 3am local time on Saturday.

Major-General Achmad noted that Friday's operation was focusing on waters around "60 miles" (97km) north of Bali, especially “a highly magnetic spot” found by the warship KRI Pulau Rimau-724 on Thursday and an area near where an oil spill was discovered.

Navy chief Yudo Margono earlier revealed that a floating item with a “high magnetic force” had been found at a depth of 50m to 100m.

An aerial search detected an oil spill close to the location where the submarine dived, which the navy said could indicate a leak from the vessel fuel tank or an intended effort by its crew to refloat the vessel by releasing fluids.