Missing Indonesian submarine found on ocean floor, entire crew dead

The Indonesia submarine KRI Alugoro searching for the KRI Nanggala. Picture: Eric Ireng/EPA
All 53 crew members of the Indonesian Navy submarine that went missing last week have been confirmed dead, officials announced on Sunday.

Authorities lost contact with the KRI Nanggala 402 submarine after it submerged early on Wednesday during a torpedo drill in the Bali Strait.

Search crews had been operating under the assumption that the vessel had sunk after debris, including parts of a torpedo straightener, were found floating in the water yesterday.

At a media conference today, Indonesian Air Chief Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto said the warship Rigel had scanned the area around the debris using sonar and a magnetometer, After which a remote operated vehicle was sent to take images underwater.

“We found and confirmed an image of Nanggala submarine parts, like horizontal steering, anchor, exterior body, vertical steering, and other parts like safety suits for crew,” said Marshal Tjahjanto.

“Based on that authentic proof, I declare here that the Nanggala submarine sank and all of the crew died.”

According to Navy Chief of Staff Admiral Yudo Margono, the vessel was found at a depth of 850 metres, having broken into three parts. The submarine was not designed to survive at any depth below 500 metres.

As for the cause of the sinking, Admiral Margona merely said it was “not a human error” but a “natural environment factor”.

“The tragedy shocked all of us. Not only the families of the 53 crew members, but also the entire Indonesian people,” President Joko Widodo said today.

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

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 United States and Australia, were among nations helping in the hunt with nearly two dozen ships deployed to scour a search zone covering about 34 square kilometres.

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 Saturday.

Indonesia now joins the list of countries to be struck by fatal submarine accidents.

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 aboard.

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 Argentine submarine that had gone missing a year earlier with 44 sailors aboard.

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