JAKARTA (REUTERS, AFP) - Indonesia’s navy is searching for a submarine with 53 people on board that went missing on Wednesday (April 21) and is seeking help from neighbouring Australia and Singapore in the hunt, the Indonesian military chief told Reuters.
The German-made submarine, KRI Nanggala-402, was conducting a torpedo drill in waters north of the island of Bali but failed to relay the results as expected, a navy spokesman said.
“We are still searching in the waters of Bali, 60 miles (96km) from Bali, (for) 53 people,” military chief Hadi Tjahjanto told Reuters in a text message.
The military chief confirmed that assistance in the search for the submarine and missing crew members had been sought from Australia and Singapore. He said that contact with the vessel was lost at 4.30am on Wednesday.
Singapore's submarine support vessel MV Swift Rescue, usually manned by a 27-person crew, departed from Changi Naval Base on Wednesday afternoon.
The 1,395-tonne KRI Nanggala-402 was built in Germany in 1978, according to the Indonesian Cabinet secretariat’s website, and underwent a two-year refit in South Korea that was completed in 2012.
Indonesia in the past operated a fleet of 12 submarines purchased from the Soviet Union to patrol the waters of its sprawling archipelago.
But now it has a fleet of only five, including two German-built Type 209 submarines and three newer South Korean vessels.
Indonesia has been seeking to upgrade its defence capabilities but some of the equipment that are still in service are old. In recent years, there have been deadly accidents involving, in particular, ageing military transport planes.
According to a statement by the Indonesian Ministry of Defence, which is monitoring the search for the missing submarine, an aerial surveillance by a helicopter at 7am (8am Singapore time) had found an oil spill around the initial dive site.
The missing boat “had asked for permission to dive at 3am (Jakarta time). After being granted a dive permit according to the procedure, the boat lost contact and could not be contacted”, said the statement.
Two navy vessels have since been deployed to assist in the search using side-scan sonar, it added.
The ministry said: “Several countries have responded and are ready to provide assistance, including the Singapore Navy, the Australian Navy and the Indian Navy.”