JAKARTA: The Indonesian navy is racing against time to rescue personnel trapped inside a missing submarine, which had oxygen supplies for only three days, the country’s naval chief said on Thursday.
The KRI Nanggala-402 submarine, with 53 people aboard, went missing from its last dive position on Wednesday morning, about 96 kilometers north of the island of Bali.
“The submarine had 72 hours of oxygen supply and it is estimated to last only until 3 a.m. on Saturday,” the Indonesian navy’s chief of staff, Adm. Yudo Margono told reporters during a press conference.
He added that there was some hope as the search party had detected a strong magnetic field at about 50–100 meters depth, but the object emitting it has not yet been identified.
The vessel went missing during a torpedo-firing drill, featuring all 21 of the navy’s ships, its two submarines, and five aircraft, which are now also deployed in the search for the missing KRI Nanggala-402.
The military said the submarine was seaworthy and its personnel were in good condition during the drill that was conducted in accordance with procedures.
As an oil slick was spotted where the vessel dived, the navy initially said it could be from a leak in the submarine’s fuel tank, which may have fractured if it submerged 500–700 meters during a blackout.
“Or it could be that when it was diving at 50–100 meters deep, the crew deliberately discharged the oil in an attempt to reduce the submarine’s load to make it lighter and stay afloat,” Margono said.
The submarine requested clearance at 3 a.m. local time to dive to periscope-level depth, or about 15 meters deep, to prepare for firing. Thirty minutes later, it was still visible to a sea rider inspection vessel.
“From 3:46 to 4:46 a.m., we tried to maintain contact with the submarine to give them the authorization to fire the torpedo, but there was no response, and its periscope was no longer visible,” Margono said, adding that in accordance with drill procedures, if contact was lost the submarine should have emerged at 5:15 a.m.
The navy dispatched the search party 90 minutes later.
Margono added that submarines from neighboring Singapore and Malaysia are on their way to help find the vessel, which has been in Indonesia’s service since 1981.
Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, addressing the same press conference, said that South Korea, where the German-built Cakra class submarine was retrofitted a number of times, had also offered assistance.
He added that the incident underscored the urgency to modernize the country’s defense systems and equipment.