Indonesia steps up search for missing submarine with hours to go before air runs out

JAKARTA – Indonesia has intensified its search for a missing submarine with 53 crew members on board with hours to go before its air runs out.

As many as 21 navy warships and a helicopter will be deployed on Friday (April 23), while four vessels from the police and another three from the Indonesia Search and Rescue Agency will help to scour the sea north of Bali.

The 44-year-old KRI Nanggala-402 was due to carry out a torpedo drill after it asked for permission to dive early on Wednesday, but then contact was lost.

The navy said a possible power blackout during the static dive may have caused it to lose control and become unable to perform emergency procedures.

Rescuers are racing against time to find the submarine as its oxygen supply can last 72 hours from the time it went missing, meaning that it is due to run out around 3am local time on Saturday.

The KRI Rigel-933, an Indonesian warship with sonar capabilities, is expected to arrive at the site of the operation at around 5pm.

Its presence will help to establish a detailed operation plan to find the KRI Nanggala-402, Indonesian armed forces spokesman Achmad Riad told a news conference on Friday in Bali’s Ngurah Rai military airbase.

“The submarine is now in a still position and emits no sound so that only sonar (technology) can detect it,” he said.

KRI Rigel is a warship used by the Indonesian navy to collect hydro-oceanographic data.

It has been deployed in search and rescue operations, including one to find the ill-fated Sriwijaya Air plane with 62 people on board that plunged into the sea north of Karawang, West Java, on Jan 9.

The Boeing 737-500 disappeared from the radar soon after departing from Indonesia’s main gateway, Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, on the outskirts of Jakarta en route to Pontianak, West Kalimantan.

Major-General Achmad noted that the operation was focusing on waters around 97km north of Bali, especially “a highly magnetic spot” found by warship KRI Pulau Rimau-724 on Thursday and an area near where an oil spill was discovered.

Navy chief Yudo Margono earlier revealed that a floating item with a “high magnetic force” had been found at a depth of 50m to 100m.

An aerial search detected an oil spill close to the location where the submarine dived, which the navy said could indicate a leak from the vessel or a signal from its crew.

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Foreign rescuers will join the Indonesian search and rescue operation soon.

Two Australian frigates arrived at 9am on Friday. Singapore’s MV Swift Rescue, which left Changi Naval Base on Wednesday afternoon, is expected to arrive on Saturday morning, while Malaysia’s MV Mega Bakti is scheduled to arrive on Sunday. India has dispatched its Deep Submergence Rescue Vessel.

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