An international rescue mission searching for a missing Indonesian submarine has turned its focus to a signal from an unidentified object, as it frantically tries to locate the vessel with 53 crew members on board before its air reserves run out.
Helicopters and ships had headed to the area in the Bali Sea where contact was lost with the 44-year-old KRI Nanggala 402 on Wednesday as it prepared to conduct a torpedo drill, Reuters reported.
Now, an object with “high magnetic force” had been spotted at the site “floating” at a depth of between 164 and 328 feet, Navy Chief of Staff Adm. Yudo Margono said Friday, adding that an aerial search had earlier spotted an oil spill near the vessel’s last location.
Indonesia’s navy said it was investigating whether the sub lost power and could not carry out emergency procedures as it descended to a depth of between 1,968 to 2,300 feet, well beyond its survivable limits.
If the diesel-electric-powered sub – which can withstand a depth of up to 1,640 feet — was still intact, officials said it would only have enough air to last about another 15 hours.
“The main priority is the safety of the 53 crew members,” Indonesian President Joko Widodo said Thursday night.
One of the people aboard is Harry Setiawan, the commander of the Indonesian submarine fleet, according to Reuters.
The US, Australia, India, Malaysia and Singapore have all sent specialized ships or plans in response to Indonesian requests for assistance.
The US Defense Department is sending “airborne assets” to assist in the search, a Pentagon spokesman told the news agency.
There have been no signs of life from the German-built sub, but family members held out hope that the massive search effort would find it in time.
“The family is in a good condition and keeps praying,” said Ratih Wardhani, the sister of 49-year-old crewman Wisnu Subiyantoro. “We are optimistic that the Nanggala can be rescued with all the crew.”
There’s been no conclusive evidence the oil slick seen was from the KRI Nanggala 402.
Margono said 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.
In 2000, the Russian nuclear sub Kursk exploded and sank during maneuvers in the Barents Sea. Most of its 118 crew died instantly, but 23 men fled to a rear compartment before they later died, mainly of suffocation.
In November 2017, an Argentine submarine went missing with 44 crew members in the South Atlantic, almost a year before its wreckage was found at a depth of 2,625 feet.
However in 2005, seven men aboard a Russian mini-sub were rescued nearly three days after it was snagged by fishing nets and cables in the Pacific Ocean. They had only six hours of oxygen left before reaching the surface.