Indonesia races to find missing submarine with 53 aboard

BALI (AFP) – Indonesian warships led the hunt yesterday for a submarine that went missing with 53 crew aboard and only enough oxygen for a few days.

An oil spill where the submarine was thought to have submerged early Wednesday pointed to possible damage to its fuel tank, and fanned fears of a deadly disaster.

The crew on the KRI Nanggala 402 could have enough oxygen until early tomorrow, but time is quickly running out as rescuers scoured the coast off holiday island Bali where it disappeared.

“The submarine’s oxygen reserve capacity in a blackout is 72 hours,” Navy Chief of Staff Yudo Margono told reporters.

“There’s time until Saturday around 3am. Let’s hope we can find them before then.”

Indonesian Navy ship KRI Singa takes part in the search for submarine KRI Nanggala that went missing off Banyuwangi, East Java in Indonesia. PHOTO: AP

However, defence analysts have warned that the vessel could have broken into pieces if it had sunk to depths believed to be as much as 700 metres.

Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton said initial reports raised the prospect of “a terrible tragedy”.

The German-built submarine was scheduled to conduct live torpedo exercises when it asked for permission to dive. It lost contact shortly after.

Navy spokesman Julius Widjojono said yesterday that search teams were focussed on an area around the oil slick, but that the exact location of the vessel had yet to be pinpointed.

Six warships and a helicopter have been sent to look for the sub, the navy said.

Other nations including the United States, Australia, France and Germany have offered help.

“It’s very distressing for families and particularly for the Indonesian navy,” Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne told ABC. “We’ve indicated that we will help in any way we can.”

Neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia have already dispatched ships that are expected to arrive in the coming days, including the city-state’s MV Swift Rescue – a submarine rescue vessel.

The military has so far refused to comment about whether the submarine, carrying 53 crew, was over capacity.

On Wednesday, the navy said the submarine might have sunk to vast depths.

“It’s possible… a blackout occurred so the vessel couldn’t be controlled and emergency procedures could not be launched and this caused it to go down to 600 or 700 metres,” it said.

French navy vice admiral Antoine Beaussant said the submarine was not built to withstand those depths. “If it went down to rest at 700 metres the likelihood is it would have broken up,” he told AFP.

Secretary of the Submarine Institute of Australia Frank Owen also warned over the
vessel’s fate. “If the submarine is on the seabed, and if it is in the depth of water that is there, there is little they can do to actually get the people out,” he told Australian media.