Hopes fade for Indonesia submarine crew as oxygen dwindles

German-built craft is equipped with enough oxygen that would last only until Saturday morning after losing power.

Berda Asmara shows a photo of her sailor husband Mes Guntur Ari Prasetyo at their home in Surabaya as the search continued for the missing Indonesian navy submarine with 53 crew on board [Juni Kriswanto/AFP]
Berda Asmara shows a photo of her sailor husband Mes Guntur Ari Prasetyo at their home in Surabaya as the search continued for the missing Indonesian navy submarine with 53 crew on board [Juni Kriswanto/AFP]

Hopes of rescuing dozens on board a missing Indonesian submarine faded on Saturday as its oxygen reserves were believed to have run out, with the United States and Australia joining the hunt in waters off Bali.

While warships, planes and hundreds of military personnel took part in a frantic search for the KRI Nanggala 402, authorities say the German-built craft was equipped with enough oxygen for only three days after losing power.

But that deadline passed early on Saturday, with still no sign of the stricken vessel and its 53 crew.

“There’s been no progress yet,” said navy spokesman Julius Widjojono. “We are still combing the area.”

The submarine – one of five in Indonesia’s fleet – disappeared early on Wednesday during live torpedo training exercises off the Indonesian holiday island.

Despite hopes for a miracle, an oil spill spotted where the submarine is thought to have submerged pointed to possible fuel tank damage, fanning fears of a deadly disaster.

“The oil spill is a bad sign,” said retired French vice admiral Jean-Louis Vichot. “If it’s from the submarine, then it is probably the end.”

There were concerns that the submarine could have been crushed by water pressure if it sank to depths reaching 700 metres (2,300 feet) – well below what it was built to withstand.

Few explanations

The vessel was scheduled to conduct training exercises when it asked for permission to dive. It lost contact shortly after.

Authorities have not offered possible explanations for the submarine’s sudden disappearance or commented on questions about whether the decades-old vessel was overloaded.

The military has said the submarine, delivered to Indonesia in 1981, was seaworthy.

Neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia, as well as the US and Australia, were among nations helping in the hunt with nearly two dozen ships deployed to scour a search zone covering about 10 square nautical miles (34 square km).

Australia’s HMAS Ballarat arrived on Saturday with a US P-8 Poseidon aircraft also helping to look for the craft.

Singapore’s MV Swift Rescue – a submarine rescue vessel – was expected later on Saturday.

Indonesia’s military said earlier it had picked up signs of an object with high magnetism at a depth of 50-100 metres (165-330 feet), fanning hopes of finding the submarine.

But the passing of Saturday’s oxygen deadline was likely to mean the Southeast Asian archipelago would be added to a list of countries struck by fatal submarine accidents.

Indonesian navy personnel are seen at the naval base in Banyuwangi, East Java province on Saturday as the military continues with search operations off the coast of Bali for the missing submarine [Sonny Tumbelaka/AFP]
Among the worst was the 2000 sinking of the Kursk, the pride of Russia’s Northern Fleet.

That submarine was on manoeuvres in the Barents Sea when it sank with the loss of all 118 on board. An inquiry found a torpedo had exploded, detonating all the others.

Most of its crew died instantly but some survived for several days before suffocating.

In 2003, 70 Chinese naval officers and crew were killed, apparently suffocated, in an accident on a Ming-class submarine during exercises in 2003.

Five years later, 20 people were killed by poisonous gas when a fire extinguishing system was accidentally activated on a Russian submarine being tested in the Sea of Japan.

And in 2018, authorities found the wreckage of an Argentinian submarine that had gone missing a year earlier with 44 sailors on board.

Source: AFP

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