JACARTA, Indonesia – Indonesian navy ships were searching the waters of Bali on Friday as they ran out of time to find a submarine that disappeared two days ago and has less than a day of oxygen supply for its 53 crew.
The KRI Nanggala 402 disappeared after its last reported dive on Wednesday off the resort island, and the concern is that the submarine may have sunk too deep to reach it or recover. The head of the Navy said the submarine should run out of oxygen by 3 am on Saturday.
“We are going to maximize the effort today, until tomorrow’s time limit at 3 am,” military spokesman Major-General Achmad Riad told reporters.
There were no signs of life on the sub, but the spokesman declined to speculate about his fate.
A total of 24 Navy ships and other ships and a patrol plane were being deployed for Friday’s search focusing on the area where an oil slick was found after the submarine disappeared during an exercise. Rescuers have made similar mass searches over the past two days.
An Australian warship equipped with a sonar device and a helicopter was scheduled to arrive on Friday. A second Australian warship, as well as rescue ships from Singapore and Malaysia are also expected in the coming days.
“These two Australian ships will help expand the search area and extend the duration of the search effort,” said Australian Navy Rear Admiral Mark Hammond.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo has canceled a visit to the port of Banyuwangi, where some rescue ships left earlier, due to preparations for a regional summit in Jakarta over the weekend, officials said. He asked Indonesians to pray for the safe return of the crew, while ordering all efforts to locate the affected submarine.
“Our main priority is the safety of 53 crew members,” said Widodo in a speech broadcast on television on Thursday. “To the family of the crew members, I can understand your feelings and we are doing our best to save all crew members on board.”
There was no conclusive evidence that the oil slick was from the submarine. The Navy Chief of Staff, Admiral Yudo Margono, said the oil could have spilled from a crack in the submarine’s fuel tank or the crew could have released fuel and fluids to reduce the vessel’s weight so it could emerge.
Margono said that an unidentified object with high magnetism was located at a depth of 50 to 100 meters (165 to 330 feet) and authorities had hoped it was the 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 its collapse depth, in which the water pressure would be greater than the hull could withstand. The depth of the vessel’s collapse was estimated at 200 meters (655 feet) by a South Korean company that refurbished the vessel in 2009-2012.
The cause of the disappearance is still uncertain. The Navy said an electrical failure may have left the submarine unable to perform emergency procedures to resurface.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said the United States is sending airborne means to aid in the search. “We are deeply saddened by the news of the loss of the Indonesian submarine and our thoughts are with the Indonesian sailors and their families,” said Kirby. Other countries also offered assistance.
Submarine accidents are often disastrous.
In 2000, the Russian nuclear submarine Kursk suffered internal explosions and sank during maneuvers in the Barents Sea. Most of its 118 crew members died instantly, but 23 men fled to a rear compartment before they died, mostly from suffocation. In November 2017, an Argentine submarine disappeared with 44 crew members in the South Atlantic, almost a year before its wreckage was found at a depth of 800 meters (2,625 feet).
But in 2005, seven men aboard a Russian mini-submarine were rescued nearly three days after their ship was trapped by fishing nets and cables in the Pacific Ocean. They had only six hours of oxygen before they reached the surface.
The KRI Nanggala 402, built in Germany, has been in service in Indonesia since 1981 and has carried 49 crew and three gunners, in addition to its commander, the Indonesian Ministry of Defense said.
Indonesia, the largest archipelago in the world with more than 17,000 islands, has faced increasing challenges to its maritime claims in recent years, including several incidents involving Chinese vessels near the Natuna Islands.