Singapore, Malaysia to join Indonesia's hunt for missing sub

Their rescue vessels will boost effort of warships, helicopter scanning the waters off Bali

Indonesian marine police preparing yesterday to take part in the search operation for the submarine, the KRI Nanggala-402, which went missing north of Bali on Wednesday during a military exercise. The submarine had 53 crew members on board.
Indonesian marine police preparing yesterday to take part in the search operation for the submarine, the KRI Nanggala-402, which went missing north of Bali on Wednesday during a military exercise. The submarine had 53 crew members on board.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Indonesian warships have been deployed to the waters off Bali to hunt for a submarine with 53 crew members that went missing on Wednesday during a naval exercise. They will soon to be joined by rescue vessels from Singapore and Malaysia.

Five Indonesian warships and a helicopter were scanning the waters to locate the vessel, which was last detected 23 nautical miles north of the island, Indonesian armed forces (TNI) spokesman Achmad Riad told a news conference from Bali's Ngurah Rai military airbase early yesterday.

Another navy vessel, the KRI Rigel-933, with underwater detection capabilities was also on the way to the location, he added.

The missing submarine, the KRI Nanggala-402, was to carry out a torpedo-firing drill after it asked for permission to dive early on Wednesday, but contact was lost and it became unreachable.

The search operation was launched shortly after the vessel failed to surface as stated in its training schedule, said Major-General Achmad.

"There were oil spills and the smell of diesel fuel in several different locations," he said, but these "could not be concluded to be fuel from the submarine", he noted.

An underwater movement at a speed of 2.5 knots was also detected but was subsequently lost, hence "leaving insufficient data" to link it to the missing submarine.

President Joko Widodo instructed the military chiefs, as well as the national search and rescue agency and other relevant institutions, to "deploy all resources and make a concerted effort" to search for the submarine and rescue its crew. "The priority is the safety of the 53 crew members," he said in a live stream from the Bogor state palace.

Navy chief Yudo Margono said oxygen supplies on the vessel would last 72 hours from the time the submarine went missing, which means air will run out early tomorrow.

The Indonesian authorities have sought the help of several neighbouring countries, Maj-Gen Achmad said.

Singapore's MV Swift Rescue, which departed from Changi Naval Base on Wednesday afternoon, is expected to arrive on-site tomorrow.

Malaysia is also sending a vessel, the MV Mega Bakti, which is scheduled to arrive on Sunday.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said that her country would "help in any way we can", Reuters reported, quoting ABC radio.

Various other countries have also offered support, including the United States, Germany, France, Turkey and Russia.

The incident is believed to be the first major submarine disaster for Indonesia, which has been moving to upgrade its ageing military equipment in recent years.

The country in the past had a fleet of 12 submarines purchased from the Soviet Union, but it now has five German and South Korean-built submarines, local media reported.

The German-built KRI Nanggala-402 joined the Indonesian fleet in 1981, and had undergone maintenance several times, the latest being in South Korea from 2007 to 2012, said the TNI.

Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto told a news conference yesterday that the incident demonstrated the need to modernise Indonesia's military equipment, known locally as alutsista.

He said he and the national armed forces commander, Air Chief Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto, are finalising a road map for the country's defence system and will submit it to Mr Widodo in two to three weeks.

"Alutsista is costly, I would even say very costly," he added.

"The national leaders have always been faced with the dilemma of having to prioritise spending on (soldiers') welfare and, at the same time, having to maintain defence capability so that our sovereignty will not be compromised."

• Additional reporting by Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja and Linda Yulisman

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 23, 2021, with the headline 'Singapore, Malaysia to join Indonesia's hunt for missing sub'. Subscribe