July 24, 2021

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The missing Indonesian submarine’s oxygen supply could run out in a matter of hours

The missing Indonesian submarine's oxygen supply could run out in a matter of hours


The Indonesian Navy scoured the waters off Bali on Friday, supported by the arrival of an Australian sonar-equipped warship with a helicopter, in an increasingly frantic search for a missing submarine with only a few hours left in the supply of oxygen to its 53 crew members.

KRI Nanggala 402 has disappeared after the last dive reported Wednesday off the resort island, and concern grows that it may have sunk too deep to reach or recover in time. The navy chief said the submarine was expected to run out of oxygen early Saturday morning.

“We will maximize the effort today, until tomorrow’s time limit at 3 am,” military spokesman Maj. Gen. Achmad Riad told reporters. That time is approximately 4:00 pm on a Friday in Eastern Time.

There were no signs of life from the submarine, but family members hoped the huge search effort would find the ship in time.

“The family is in good condition and continues to pray,” said Ratih Wardhani, the sister of 49-year-old crew member Wisnu Subiyantoro. “We are optimistic that the Nanggala can be saved with the whole crew.”

An American reconnaissance plane was due to join the search on Saturday, and a second Australian ship was due to arrive soon.

Students and teachers from a school in Surabaya on Friday pray for the 53 crew members aboard the Indonesian Navy submarine. (Juni Kriswanto / AFP / Getty Images)

“These two Australian ships will help expand the research area and extend the duration of the research effort,” said Australian Navy Rear Adm. Mark Hammond said.

Singaporean and Malaysian rescue ships were also planned in the coming days.

Oil slick nearby

The German-built, diesel-powered KRI Nanggala 402 has been in service in Indonesia since 1981 and was carrying 49 crew members and three gunners in addition to its commander, the Indonesian Defense Ministry said.

Twenty-four Indonesian ships and a patrol plane were mobilized for the search on Friday, focusing on the area where an oil slick was found after the submarine went missing during a drill. Rescuers carried out similar massive searches in the previous two days.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo canceled a visit to the port of Banyuwangi, where some rescue ships had left earlier, in preparation for a weekend regional summit in Jakarta, officials said. He asked the Indonesians to pray for the crew’s safe return, while ordering all-out efforts to locate the submarine.

“Our main priority is the safety of the 53 crew members,” Widodo said in a televised speech Thursday. “To the crew members’ family: I can understand your feelings and we are doing our best to save all crew members on board.”

There is no conclusive evidence that the oil spill originated from the submarine. Chief of Staff of the Navy Adm. Yudo Margono said the oil may have leaked from a crack in the submarine’s fuel tank or the crew may have released fuel and fluids to reduce the ship’s weight so it could emerge.

In this aerial photo, Indonesian Navy submarine KRI Alugoro is shown on Thursday during a search by KRI Nanggala. (Eric Ireng / The Associated Press)

Margono said an unidentified object showing high magnetism was found at a depth of 50-100 meters and officials hoped it was the submarine.

The navy said it believes, however, that the submarine sank to a depth of 600-700 meters, much deeper than its collapse depth, at which point the water pressure would be greater than the hull could handle. The depth of the ship’s collapse was estimated at 200 meters by a South Korean company that repaired the ship between 2009 and 2012.

Uncertain cause

The cause of the disappearance is still uncertain. The navy said an electrical failure could have left the submarine unable to perform emergency procedures to resurface.

Submarine accidents are often disastrous.

In 2000, the Russian nuclear submarine Kursk suffered internal explosions and sank while maneuvering in the Barents Sea. Most of its 118 crew members died instantly, but 23 men escaped to a rear compartment before dying later, mostly from suffocation.

In November 2017, an Argentine submarine disappeared with 44 crew members in the South Atlantic. His wreck was found almost a year later at a depth of 800 meters.

In 2005, seven men aboard a Russian mini-submarine were rescued nearly three days after their ship was entangled by fishing nets and cables in the Pacific Ocean. They only had six hours of oxygen before they reached the surface.