Australia Joins SAR Mission For Missing Indonesian Submarine

A string of countries including Australia is continuing to assist Indonesian authorities in their search for a missing submarine and its 53 inhabitants,whose prospects of being found alive are running thin. 

The 43-year-old vessel is carrying 53 crew members.

The Indonesian military have said the vessel’s oxygen supplies would run out on Saturday at 5:00am AEST. 

There are also mounting concerns the 43-year-old vessel may have sunk too deep to reach or recover the stranded 53 crew, which includes the head of Indonesia’s submarine fleet

The Indonesian Navy’s KRI Nanggala 402 submarine went missing on Wednesday, after it failed to re-emerge from its last reported dive in waters near Bali. 

While Indonesian authorities have had their search bolstered by a sonar-equipped Australian warship with a helicopter, there have been no signs of life so far. 

Who is doing the SAR mission?

A docked frigate with a seagull flying past
The HMAS Ballarat will be joined by US, Singaporean, and Malaysian craft.(Supplied: Department Of Defence/Kylie Jagiello)

Twenty-four Indonesian ships and a patrol plane were mobilised for the search on Friday, with similar large searches made in the past two days. 

An Indonesian air force pilot told Reuters that six tonnes of equipment had been flown to a base to help with the search including underwater balloons to help lift a vessel.

AnAmerican P-8 Posiedon reconissance aircraftwas expected to join the search on Saturday. 

A United States Navy Boeing P-8 Poseidon takes off from Perth International airport
The US Navy’s P-8 Poseidon fleet have been utilised for various sea searches in the past.(AAP: Richard Wainwright)

Australia is sending two navy ships: the long-range frigate HMAS Ballarat, and HMAS Sirius, which is a navy refueling ship.

“These two Australian ships will help expand the search area and extend the duration of the search effort,” Australian Navy Rear Admiral Mark Hammond said.

Singaporean and Malaysian rescue ships were also expected in the coming days.

Marcus Hellyer, a senior analyst focussing on defence capability and military technology at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, told Radio National’s PM that Australia’s vessels were constrained in their ability to help.

“The Sirius is essentially a big oil tanker, so there’s not much you can do except maybe refill ships at sea,” Dr Hellyer said.

“And the Ballarat is a frigate, which does have sonar capacity, but not the kind of hydrographic sonars you’d need to be able to detect objects in deep water.”

What has been found so far?

Oil slicks are seen in the ocean from an aerial view.
Oil slicks were seen in the submarine search area.(AP: Eric Ireng)

Indonesian search parties have focused on an area where an oil slick was found after the submarine disappeared.

Indonesia’s Navy Chief of Staff Yudo Margon also said an unidentified object exhibiting high magnetism was located at a depth of 50 to 100 metres, and officials held out hope it is the submarine.

But the navy said it believes that the submarine sank to a depth of 600-700 metres, much deeper than its collapse depth, at which water pressure would be greater than the hull could withstand.

The Bali Sea can reach depths of more than 1,500 metres.

The vessel’s collapse depth was estimated at 200 metres by a South Korean company that refitted the ageing vessel in 2009-2012.

What caused the accident?

An aerial photo shows a submarine breaking the waterline on a clear day in deep blue waters.
The KRI Nanggala pictured in 2014.(AP: Eric Ireng)

The cause of the disappearance is still uncertain.

The navy said an electrical failure could have left the submarine unable to execute emergency procedures to resurface.

Admiral Margono also suggested oil could have spilled from a crack in the submarine’s fuel tank, or the crew could have released fuel and fluids to reduce the vessel’s weight so it could surface.

But there has been no conclusive evidence the oil slick was from the sub.

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