As oxygen decreases, concerns about Indonesian submarine crew increase

Jakarta, Indonesia (AP) —Rescue teams disappeared two days ago on Friday and continued to urgently search for Indonesian submarines with less than a day of oxygen remaining on their 53 crew.

KRI Nangala 402 went missing after the last reported dive on a resort island in Bali on Wednesday. There is concern that the submarine may have submerged in water that is too deep to reach or recover. President Joko Widodo urged all Indonesians to pray for the safe return of their crew, ordering them to do their utmost to find the affected submarines.

Two ships departed a nearby port and participated in the search on Friday morning. More than 20 naval vessels, two submarines, and five aircraft were mobilized for the search on Thursday, and a similar large-scale search activity was scheduled for Friday.

Rescue vessels from Singapore and Malaysia are expected to arrive in the area from Saturday to Monday, with other countries providing assistance.

“Our top priority is the safety of our 53 crew,” Widodo said in a speech televised Thursday. “The crew’s family can understand your feelings. We are doing our best to save the entire crew.”

The submarine was expected to run out of oxygen by about 3 am on Saturday, said Admiral Yud Margono, Chief of Staff of the Navy.

The search was focused on oil slicks found near the submarine’s last dive site. However, there is no conclusive evidence that oil comes from submarines. Margono said oil could have spilled from a crack in the submarine’s fuel tank, or the crew could have released fuel and liquid to reduce the weight of the ship and lift it to the surface.

According to Margono, an unidentified object with high magnetism is at a depth of 50-100 meters (165-330 feet), and authorities want it to be a submarine.

The Navy also said it believed the submarine sank to a depth of 600-700 meters (2,000-2,300 feet), much deeper than the collapse depth. This is much greater than the depth at which the water pressure can withstand the hull. The ship’s collapse depth was estimated to be 200 meters (655 feet) by a Korean company that remodeled the ship between 2009 and 2012.

The cause of the disappearance is still unknown. The Navy said an electrical failure could have prevented the submarine from performing emergency procedures to resurface.

In addition to rescue vessels sent from Singapore and Malaysia, there were offers of assistance from Australia, the United States, Germany, France, Russia, India, Turkey and South Korea.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the United States is sending aerial assets to assist in the search. “We are deeply saddened by the news that the Indonesian submarine has been lost. Our idea lies with the Indonesian sailors and their families,” Kirby said.

Submarine accidents are often disastrous.

In 2000, the Russian nuclear submarine Kursk was sunk by an internal explosion during its maneuver in the Barents Sea. Most of the 118 crew members died instantly, but 23 men fled to the rear compartment before they died later, mainly due to suffocation. In November 2017, an Argentine submarine went missing in the South Atlantic Ocean with a crew of 44. Almost a year earlier, the wreckage was found at a depth of 800 meters (2,625 feet).

However, in 2005, seven men on board a Russian mini-submarine were rescued nearly three days after being caught in fishing nets and cables in the Pacific Ocean. Only 6 hours of oxygen remained to reach the surface.

According to the Indonesian Ministry of Defense, the German-made diesel-powered KRI Nangala 402 has been in use in Indonesia since 1981, carrying 49 crew members, 3 gunners and their commanders.

Indonesia, the world’s largest archipelago with more than 17,000 islands, faces increasing challenges to recent maritime claims, including numerous incidents involving Chinese ships near the Natuna Islands.


Associated Press writers Kim Hyun-in of Seoul, South Korea and Robert Burns of Washington contributed to this report.