After the discovery of a wreck at sea, Indonesian authorities confirmed on Saturday (24) that the submarine which had disappeared off Bali with 53 people on board last Wednesday (21) had sunk.
“Based on the evidence we found which came from KRI Nanggala, we changed the situation of the submarine from ‘missing’ to ‘wrecked’,” said Yudo Margono, commander of the military staff. Indonesian Navy, at a press conference on Saturday.
The KRI Nanggala-402, built in Germany and in service since 1981, lost contact after requesting permission to dive, at 3:00 a.m. on Wednesday local time (4:00 p.m. Tuesday in Brasilia).
The search focused on the area from which the last signal was sent and where teams found an oil spill, which could signal damage to the submarine’s tank, but could also be a way to send a distress message. According to estimates by Indonesian authorities, the ship’s oxygen reserves ran out on Friday afternoon (23), which in practice exhausted the possibilities of rescuing living crew members.
“We are still doing the research,” said Margono. “The depth of the sea in the area we detected is 850 meters, which is very complicated and presents many difficulties.”
The KRI Nanggala-402 is capable of descending below 250 meters, so if it is estimated to have sunk much deeper than that, the likelihood of having suffered cracks or being crushed by the pressure of water is very high. “Now it will be up to investigators to establish the chronology of events and determine the cause. At the same time, plans have been made to assess the feasibility of recovering the submarine at such an extreme depth,” said Collin Koh, researcher at the Institute for Defense and Strategic Studies, Reuters news agency.
“It is technically possible to do this, although I think Indonesia will have to involve foreign aid,” he added. Several countries have offered assistance to Indonesia, including the United States, Australia, India, France and Germany. Neighboring Malaysia and Singapore have sent support ships.
Underwater accidents, one of the most complex types of ships available to the Navy, are not uncommon. In 2017, Argentina lost ARA San Juan, which sank after an internal explosion unexplained to date. The most classic case is that of the Kursk, a Russian nuclear submarine that sank after an explosion in the torpedo compartment in 2000, at the dawn of the era of Vladimir Putin in power.
The KRI Nanggala-402 was built in Germany in 1978, according to a government website, and further modifications were made to modernize it. It’s a diesel submarine.
The ship belongs to the Cakra class, one of the many variations of the IKL-209 export line of ships. There is another in operation in the Indonesian Navy and two more of a more modern model manufactured under license in South Korea, the Jang Bogo class – called Nagapasa by Jakarta. There are three other such ships under construction.
Brazil operates five ships on the 209 line, four of the Tupi class and one of the Tikuna. Since 2009, it has changed partners and built four French Scorpène submarines. Her larger and modified Brazilian version is the Riachuelo class, and there are two at sea today – one at an advanced stage of testing, another recently launched.
Nanggala was modernized in South Korea, Indonesia’s military partner, in 2012. But its likely loss is another sign of the difficulties facing the country’s armed forces.
Situated at the center of the disputed sea routes by China and the United States and its allies, Indonesia is strategically vital in any political context of the Indo-Pacific.
In 2019, President Joko Widodo sought to advance the war modernization agenda by placing a former rival, General Prabowo Subianto, as Minister of Defense. In the assessment of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a benchmark British body in this area, the effort has so far been slow.