Hope fades for the 53 crew members of a missing Indonesian submarine, as the search for the ship continues off the coast of Bali.
The Indonesian navy has revealed that an oil spill was detected in the sea near the first dive position of KRI Nanggala-402 before it disappeared.
The Indonesian Defense Ministry said the navy lost contact with the ship shortly after it was cleared to dive, around 3 a.m. Wednesday.
Defense officials had previously said they believed the ship had an electrical failure during the dive, causing it to lose control and prevent it from resurfacing. They believe it may have sunk to a depth of 600 to 700 meters.
Frank Owen, an expert on underwater rescue, told The Guardian that this particular vessel was only designed to submerge to a depth of less than half.
“The sub is designed to go about 250 meters, and they usually have probably twice the safety margin, but when you start to go below that, who knows.”
“At that depth of water, they could still be in one piece, but there probably would have been a lot of buckling. If something fails, then everything fails. “
Owen said there were three likely outcomes for the submarines and their crew.
“Either it’s at the bottom of the sea or it’s on the surface. Or it’s just working and you don’t know people are looking for it. It’s one of three options. “
“It could be a communication failure, but it has been 24 hours since the sub was lost, so it seems less and less likely.”
He said it was not likely that the submarine was still operating and had just lost communication.
“They had an exercise that they were going to do, there was an expectation that they were going to communicate, but they didn’t communicate. So it’s a communication problem or an underwater problem. “
Several countries, including Australia, Singapore and India, have responded to a request for help from Indonesia to search for the missing ship.
“We have had good cooperation with Singapore and Australia in finding and handling training accidents,” said the military commander, Air Chief Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto.
Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton said he had called his counterpart, Prabowo Subianto, and offered Australia’s help.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne also said Australia would provide all the assistance it could, but said underwater rescues were complex and difficult.
“The news of the missing submarine is very worrying. There are over 50 divers on the ship and the reports we hear during the night are clearly going to be deeply distressing to the families of those divers and indeed to the Indonesian navy. “
“Australia has indicated and been in contact with Minister Prabowo through Defense Minister Dutton that we will provide all the assistance we can. There is no doubt that underwater search and rescue is very complex.
“It is not a submarine that Australia operates; our class of submarines is quite different, but whatever we can do we have committed ourselves to do, and I think those divers and their families need all of our thoughts and prayers. “
The Indonesian navy has indicated that it has deployed all ships equipped with underwater devices to assist with the search and rescue mission.
The defunct Type 209/1300 submarine was built at Germany’s Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft in 1977, and was officially listed in the navy in 1981, making it one of the oldest submarines still in operation.
James Goldrick, a retired rear admiral and naval historian, said the ship’s age could have been a contributing factor.
“Turning 40 is really starting to push. Hardly anyone operates submarines that old.
“The concern here is that not only is the ship approaching 40 years old, like an original ship, but the time since the last major repair is approaching the limit.”
The last time KRI Nanggala was overhauled was in 2012, in South Korea, where parts of its structure were replaced or upgraded.
Goldrick said that rescue efforts would be extremely difficult, especially if the ship has sunk to the seabed.
“The problem is that if the submarine is in too deep an area, there is very little you can do about it if it has actually sunk. It is practically impossible to get them out to that depth.
“The seabed is not necessarily flat, and it is very likely to have some cracks and some bumps, so even if the sub is still a full hull, it can be very difficult to find.
“Diving can go wrong very easily. The possibility that the worst has happened is very high. “
Goldrick said that even finding the ship would be difficult, even if the oil spill detected near the last dive position gives some indication of where it might be.
“The oil slick could give an indication, and with an understanding of the environmental conditions, the prevailing currents and the wind, you might be able to say, well, it can track to a likely position, but it’s very difficult.
“So you have an area of probability that you need to search, and even in very deep water, a small area of possibility can be very difficult.
“It is not easy to run over a submarine that has disappeared.”
He said that many Australian divers would be watching the news with anxiety and that it was always a difficult job.
“All divers in the Australian Navy will be concerned about them.
“It is a very high risk profession that requires constant professionalism and a team that is doing the right thing, all the time. And team that is working. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism