Nations Send Ships, Planes to Assist Indonesia in Search for Submarine

Tria Dianti
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Nations Send Ships, Planes to Assist Indonesia in Search for Submarine Students at an Islamic school in Surabaya, Indonesia, pray for the 53 crew members aboard the KRI Nanggala-402 submarine that went missing during a training exercise off the coast of Bali, April 23, 2021.

International search-and-rescue teams were en route Friday to join the hunt for an Indonesian Navy submarine missing since early Wednesday, as hopes of finding the crew alive dwindled.

The KRI Nanggala-402, carrying a crew of 53, lost contact about 60 miles (96.5 km) north of Bali after the vessel was cleared to dive during a torpedo firing exercise, and was feared to have sunk in waters hundreds of meters deep, officials said. The search operation intensified on Friday after the Navy said the oxygen reserve aboard the submarine was expected to run out early Saturday. 

Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, India and the United States were sending rescue ships and aircraft to support the search, officials said. 

“The U.S. and Australia have been given clearance. All the foreign ships have been given clearance,” armed forces spokesman Achmad Riad said during a news conference at an air force base in Badung, Bali.                                                                                   

The Indonesian military deployed 21 warships, including the newly acquired submarine KRI Alugoro, while the police sent four vessels, Riad said.

Singapore and Malaysia sent their submarine-rescue vessels, the MV Swift Rescue and the MV Mega Bakti, respectively. Australia dispatched the HMAS Sirius and HMAS Ballarat, which is equipped with a rigid hull inflatable boat designed for high-speed military and emergency operations, along with a helicopter, Riad said.

Indonesian Navy spokesman Julius Widjojono said only the vessel sent by Singapore’s was equipped to mount a rescue.

“We are waiting for the MV Swift Rescue. To find the submarine, equipment that can reach its depth is needed. We don’t have it,” Julius said.

In Washington, the Pentagon released details of a Friday call between U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Indonesian Minister of Defense Prabowo Subianto, where Austin expressed his heartfelt concern about the missing submarine and its crew. The two discussed the recent deployment of the Poseidon aircraft to aid the search.

“Secretary Austin offered to provide additional assistance, which could include undersea search assets, for the effort,” the Pentagon said.

In a separate call with Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan underscored that “the United States would do everything possible to support Indonesia’s search and rescue effort,” the White House said. 

A U.S. P-8 Poseidon reconnaissance aircraft was expected in Bali on Saturday, but an American advance team arrived in Indonesia to help with coordination, Riad said.

Australia’s Department of Defense said the Sirius and the Ballarat were “making best speed for the search area.”

“These two Australian ships will help expand the search area and extend the duration of search effort,” Australian Rear Adm. Admiral Mark Hammond said in a statement. 

South Korea’s Ministry of Defense, meanwhile, said it too was ready to help if asked.

On Thursday, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo assured the nation that the government’s and military’s top priority was the safety of the submarine crew members.

“I invite all Indonesian people to pray that this search and rescue effort will run smoothly that the entire crew of the ship can return safely,” he said on social media.

Help ‘urgently needed’

Military and intelligence analyst Susaningtyas Kertopati said time was running out.

“The chances of survival are certainly diminishing, so help from friendly countries is urgently needed,” she told BenarNews on Friday.

Singapore’s MV Swift Rescue is the best bet because the ship is equipped with a Deep Search and Rescue Six submersible, she said.

“The ship has the technology to evacuate the crew because it is capable of diving up to hundreds of meters and can be connected to a damaged or sunk submarine,” she said.

“In addition, the Swift Rescue has two closed rescue boats capable of carrying 50 people. So hopefully there will be a miracle and we can find it, it is still possible,” she said.

On Thursday, search teams equipped with sonar technology detected a magnetic object about 50 to 100 meters (164 to 328 feet) underwater, but it was not clear what it was, Navy chief of staff Yudo Margono said. 

The Navy said the KRI Nanggala-402 was suspected to be 600 to 700 meters (1,970 to 2,300 feet) underwater, although it was designed to dive to depths of only 250 to 500 meters (820 to 1,640 feet).

Late Wednesday, a helicopter crew conducting aerial surveillance reporting finding an oil spill in the location where the submarine was last detected, but it was not clear if it was connected to the incident.

Holding out hope

Meanwhile, children in the submarine’s home port of Surabaya prayed on Friday for the sailors’ safe recovery, while relatives of the crew members were clinging to hope that their loved ones could survive.

“I believe Pandu will return safely,” Yayak Dwi Ernawati told the government-run Antara news agency. Her son-in-law, Second Sgt. Pandu Yudha Kusuma, was on the submarine.

Yayak said Pandu married her daughter two months ago.

“Three days after the wedding, he left for Surabaya and on Monday they called us that he was joining a military drill,” Yayak said. “We haven’t received complete information from the naval base.”  

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

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

Indonesia has five submarines, including the missing one.

Lt. Col. Pelaman Ansori, a former KRI Nanggala-402 commander, said safety equipment on board met international standards.

“The safety equipment is adjusted to the number of personnel on board in the submarine. If there are 53 passengers on board, there is safety equipment for 53 people,” he said during a news conference.



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