Chinese Ships Arrive to Help Salvage Sunken Indonesian Submarine

Ronna Nirmala
Chinese Ships Arrive to Help Salvage Sunken Indonesian Submarine Family members release flowers into the sea during a remembrance ceremony for the crew of the sunken Indonesian navy submarine KRI Nanggala, from the deck of the hospital ship KRI Dr. Soeharso off the coast of Bali, Indonesia, April 30, 2021.

Two Chinese military ships have reached Bali Sea waters to help salvage the wreckage of an Indonesian Navy submarine that sank last month with 53 crewmembers on board, officials said Monday.

Two of the three People’s Liberation Army Navy ships that will participate in the effort to bring up pieces of the KRI Nanggala-402, whose wreck was found a half-mile under the sea, arrived the day before, said Navy spokesman 1st Adm. Julius Widjojono. 

“PRC Navy Ship Ocean Tug Nantuo-195 and PRC Navy Ocean Salvage & Rescue Yongxing Dao-863 have arrived in Indonesia, in Bali’s waters, on Sunday,” Julius told BenarNews.

“Another ship, Scientific Salvage Tan Suo 2, is on its way to Indonesia.”

The Yongxing Dao is equipped with an underwater robot and sonar technology and can recover objects as deep as 4,500 meters (14,760 feet), Julius said.

The German-made Indonesian submarine was taking part in a torpedo-firing exercise off the northern coast of Bali when it lost contact as it was about to receive clearance to fire on April 21.

The Chinese naval ships were dispatched after Beijing’s Ambassador to Jakarta, Xiao Qian, offered assistance to Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, the Navy said.

“The offer of humanitarian assistance was welcomed by the government of Indonesia,” it said in a statement.

An Indonesian armed forces spokesman, Col. Djawara Whimbo, said that the Chinese ships would carry out an operation to lift the hull, the heaviest part of the sunken sub.

“Hopefully the equipment is adequate to carry out an immediate recovery operation,” he told BenarNews.

The seafloor off Bali features steep slopes. The Bali Sea has a maximum depth of 1,590 m (5,216 feet).

The submarine was found broken into at least three pieces, at a depth of about 840 meters (2,756 feet), on April 25 after a search effort involving ships and aircraft from Singapore, Australia, Malaysia, India and the United States.

Vice Adm. Muhammad Ali, a former commander of the Nanggala-402, said in a statement last week that an underwater wave may have caused the submarine to sink.

He said the powerful movement, known as an oceanic nonlinear internal solitary wave, might have pulled the vessel vertically and caused it to sink faster than it should have.

Also last week, the The Straits Times newspaper quoted two senior Indonesian naval officials as saying that a strong internal wave in the spot where the submarine went missing on April 21 was captured in image reports from the same day by Japanese and European weather satellites.

On April 25, when the navy announced that the submarine was found broken up on the seabed and declared all of its 53 sailors dead, Navy chief of staff Adm. Yudo Margono Yudo had said the cause of the accident was unlikely due to human error.

“The diving was carried out in accordance with proper procedures. This will be investigated and we will find out after the hull is lifted,” he told reporters then.

“I am sure this was not a human fault but rather a natural factor,” he added.

On Friday, the Indonesian Navy and relatives of the submarine’s crew members prayed and cast flowers into the sea to pay their last respects to the fallen sailors, in a ceremony aboard a naval hospital ship led by Yudo.

None of the bodies of the dead sailors have been found.

Oil ship

The Indonesian Navy said it was also enlisting a ship operated by SKK Migas, the country’s oil industry regulator, to try to recover the sunken submarine.

SKK Migas head Dwi Soetjipto said that the agency was hammering out technical details before launching the salvage operation with the Timas 1201, which is equipped with a crane that can lift loads of up to 1,200 tons.

“We are certainly ready to provide the necessary support,” Dwi told MetroTVNews.

On Sunday, Adm. Yudo said that the Timas 1201 would likely be used to lift the broken parts of the submarine.

“The recovery operation will be done gradually,” Yudo told KompasTV.

“But what about the mechanism? This is what we are still working on,” he added.

Whimbo, the armed forces spokesman, said he did not know when the Timas 1201 would join the Chinese ships in Bali’s waters.

“But if they are in the same location, it is possible to cooperate,” he said.

He also said he did not know how long the three Chinese ships would be in Bali.

“It depends on the situation there, because it’s a very difficult operation. Hopefully it won’t be long,” Whimbo said.

The KRI Nanggala-402 was built by German company Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft in 1977 and came into service in 1981, the Indonesian military had said.

From 2009 to 2012, the submarine was retrofitted by South Korea’s Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering, officials had said.

With the loss of the KRI Nanggala-402, Indonesia has four submarines left in its naval fleet.


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