Indonesia: Search on for Submarine Missing off Bali

Arie Firdaus
Indonesia: Search on for Submarine Missing off Bali National Search and Rescue Agency members prepare for a search mission for the Indonesian Navy submarine KRI Nanggala-402 at Benoa harbor in Bali, Indonesia April 21, 2021.

The Indonesian military is searching for a Navy submarine carrying a crew of 53 that went missing during an exercise off Bali on Wednesday, officials confirmed.

The German-made KRI Nanggala-402 disappeared about 95 km (59 miles) north of the island at about 3 a.m. after being cleared to dive, Navy spokesman Julius Widjojono said, adding that an electrical failure could have caused the crew to lose control.

“The submarine was about to simulate a torpedo attack, but it failed to report back and we lost contact,” Julius told BenarNews. “At least 53 crew members were in the submarine.”

The Associated Press reported the submarine was carrying a crew of 49 along with its commander and three gunners.

“The result of a temporary analysis shows that there is a possibility of an electrical failure resulting in the crew losing control of it and not being able to carry out emergency procedures,” Julius said.

Late Wednesday, the Defense Ministry said that a helicopter conducting surveillance of the area where the submarine was last seen had reported an oil slick in the water.

The oil spill may have resulted from possible damage to the sub’s fuel tank caused by water pressure, Julius said.

In addition to the helicopter, the military deployed several ships equipped with sonar technology to locate the submarine. The military also reached out to Singapore and Australia, which have rescue vessels, to assist in the search, officials said, adding that navies from those countries and others, including India, have offered to assist.

Last year, the Indonesian military said it had five submarines, including two built by South Korea’s Daewoo – while noting only three were operational.

The Nanggala-402 was built by German company Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft in 1979. The diesel-powered submarine can dive for three months at a maximum depth of 500 meters (1,640 feet), is armed with 14 torpedoes and has a firing range of up to 2 miles (3.2 km), according to the Indonesian military.

The submarine was in Bali waters to prepare for a war exercise scheduled for Thursday.  Indonesian National Armed Forces chief Air Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto and Navy Chief of Staff Adm. Yudho Margono were expected to attend.

Hadi planned to hold a media briefing on Thursday in Bali regarding the missing submarine, a military spokesman told Reuters news service.

The crew and officers of the KRI Nanggala-402 participate in a ceremony aboard the submarine at the naval base in Surabaya, Indonesia, Feb. 20, 2019 [Indonesian National Armed Forces handout via AFP]

Maritime security

Connie Rahakundini Bakrie, a military analyst at the University of Indonesia, said losing a submarine would be a big blow to the Indonesian Navy and the nation’s maritime security.

“Submarines are an important element of a large and strong navy,” she told BenarNews.

Ideally, Indonesia should have 12 submarines to protect its territorial waters, she said.

“If it is lost, our armament will be even less strong,” she said. “It will be even more difficult to realize our dream of becoming a maritime fulcrum.”

Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo vowed to enforce the country’s sovereignty over South China Sea waters, during a visit to a military base in the Natuna Islands in January 2020.

Just days before the president visited the base, military officials said about 30 Chinese ships had been sighted in Indonesian territory, accompanied by two Chinese Coast Guard ships and a fishing surveillance vessel. The previous month, the Foreign Ministry had summoned Chinese Ambassador Xiao Qian to protest the presence of at least 65 Chinese ships in Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone off the islands.

China claims nearly all of the South China Sea as its own while five other governments – Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam – have claims to territories that overlap with Beijing. Indonesia does not regard itself as party to the South China Sea dispute even though China claims historic rights to parts of the sea overlapping its EEZ.

Indonesia previously had a fleet of 12 submarines purchased from the Soviet Union, according to local media and wire reports.

In March, South Korea’s Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering (DSME) handed over the KRI Alugoro submarine to the Indonesian Navy.

It is the first submarine assembled locally in Indonesia by the state-owned shipbuilding company PT PAL, the government said.

Dave Laksono, an MP, urged the Indonesian military to audit its equipment and review standard operating procedures for training.

“We need to ensure that all TNI equipment is in prime condition to carry out operations and exercises,” he said using an acronym for the armed forces.

Tria Dianti in Jakarta contributed to this report.


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