The Indonesian president ordered an all-out effort to find a lost submarine in a race against time to save the 53 crew, whose oxygen supply was only expected to last another 24 hours.
As the US military said Thursday it would join the search, the Indonesian navy said its ships had found an unidentified object at a depth of 50-100 meters (165-330 feet).
But hope was running out for the crew aboard KRI Nanggala-402, which disappeared early Wednesday during a torpedo drill.
“I have ordered the military chief, the navy chief of staff, the search and rescue agency and other bodies to deploy all the best forces and efforts to find and rescue the crew of the submarine,” the submarine said on Thursday. President of Indonesia, Joko Widodo. “The top priority is the safety of the 53 crew members.”
Yudo Margono, the navy’s chief of staff, said the search was being helped by calm conditions, but the crew’s air supply would last only until Saturday.
“Hopefully, before they can be found, the oxygen will be enough,” he told a news conference in Bali, adding that the submarine had been cleared for use and was in good condition.
The diesel-powered KRI Nanggala 402 was participating in a training exercise on Wednesday when a scheduled report call was missed. Authorities reported an oil slick and the smell of diesel fuel near the start position of his last dive, about 96 kilometers (60 miles) north of Bali, although there was no conclusive evidence that they were linked to the submarine.
Yudo Margono said rescuers had found an unidentified object with high magnetism at a depth of 50-100 m (165-330 ft) and that officials expected it to be the submarine.
He said they were waiting for a Navy ship with underwater detection facilities to arrive in the area before they could investigate further.
Indonesia said several countries had responded to requests for assistance, with Malaysia and Singapore sending ships, and Australia offering “help in any way possible.” The US defense department was dispatching “airborne assets” to assist in the underwater search, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on Twitter.
The Indonesian navy believes the submarine sank to a depth of 600-700 m (2,000-2,300 ft), three times the depth at which pressure would begin to crush the vessel.
Ahn Guk-hyeon, an official with South Korea’s Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering, which overhauled the ship in 2009-2012, said the submarine would collapse if it entered more than 200 meters. He said his company updated much of the submarine’s internal structures and systems, but lacked recent information on the vessel.
Frank Owen, secretary of the Australian Submarine Institute, also said the submarine could be too deep for a rescue team to operate.
“Most rescue systems really only have a capacity of about 600 m (1970 ft),” he said. “They can go further because they will have a margin of safety built into the design, but the pumps and other systems associated with that may not have the capacity to operate. So they can survive that depth, but not necessarily operate. “
Owen, a former diver who developed an Australian underwater rescue system, said the Indonesian ship was not equipped with a rescue seat around an escape hatch designed for underwater rescues. He said a rescue submarine would make a waterproof connection to a disabled submarine with a supposed skirt placed over the rescue seat so that the hatch can be opened without the affected boat filling with water.
Owen said the sub could recover from 500 meters without any damage, but could not say whether it would have imploded at 700 meters.
The German-made submarine, which has been in service in Indonesia since 1981, was carrying 49 crew members, along with its commander and three gunners, the Indonesian Defense Ministry said. It had been maintained and reformed in Germany, Indonesia and, more recently, in South Korea.
More than 60 Type 209 class submarines have been sold and served in 14 navies around the world, ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems spokesman Eugen Witte said.
Indonesia, the world’s largest archipelago nation with more than 17,000 islands, has faced increasing challenges to its maritime claims in recent years, including numerous incidents involving Chinese vessels near the Natuna Islands.
Last year, Widodo reaffirmed the country’s sovereignty during a visit to the islands at the edge of the South China Sea, one of the busiest shipping lanes where China is embroiled in territorial disputes with its smaller neighbors.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism