By Tria Dianti
A sunken Indonesian submarine was found broken into pieces on the seabed, senior military officials announced Sunday, as they declared all 53 crew members dead in waters off Bali more than a half-mile deep.
An unmanned Singaporean submersible vehicle captured images of the wreckage of the KRI Nanggala-402 at a depth of 838 meters (2,750 feet), said Air Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto, Indonesia’s military chief, as he confirmed that the submarine had disintegrated under enormous pressure at depths far below those it could safely dive to.
“We have received images that have been confirmed to be parts of the submarine including the rear vertical rudder, the anchor, the outer pressure body and other parts of the ship including safety suits,” Hadi told a press conference at an air force base in Bali.
“With deep sadness, I, as the TNI commander, declare that the 53 members of the TNI aboard the Nanggala-402 have died,” he said, using the Indonesian acronym for the country’s armed forces.
Moments before the military announced the news about confirmation of the wreckage and deaths of all the sailors aboard the Nanggala, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo went on his official YouTube channel to pay tribute to the fallen seamen and offer condolences.
“The tragedy has shocked all of us, not just the families of the crew members and the Indonesian Navy, but the entire nation,” he said.
His message was broadcast after the president had been briefed about the deaths of the crew members and first loss of a submarine in the nation’s naval fleet.
“They were the best children of our nation, patriots who defended our national sovereignty,” he said.
Both the prime minister and the king of Malaysia also offered their condolences.
“We are saddened by this shocking incident,” Prime Minister Muyhiddin Yassin said in a statement.
“Malaysia is always ready to extend necessary aid if needed to the Indonesian republic during this critical time,” he said.
The German-made submarine lost radio contact after being cleared to dive during a torpedo training exercise early Wednesday morning about 60 miles (96.5 km) off Bali.
On Saturday, hopes for crew members’ survival were effectively dashed when the military announced that debris and objects from the submarine had been found, leading officials to suspect that the ship’s hull may have cracked and broken up under the strain of pressure at waters so deep.
Earlier, naval officials had warned that oxygen reserves aboard the submarine were expected to run out early Saturday had there been an onboard power outage.
Indonesia’s next-door neighbors – Singapore, Malaysia and Australia – sent ships to support dozens of Indonesian naval vessels and aircraft in the search for the submarine. The United States sent a P-8 Poseidon reconnaissance plane.
Navy Chief of Staff Adm. Yudo Margono said the KRI Rigel, an Indonesian Navy ship equipped with sonar technology, had detected the sunken sub at a depth of about 800 meters (2,625 feet).
A submarine-rescue vessel sent by Singapore, the MV Swift Rescue, then dispatched a remote-operated underwater vehicle to confirm the finding, he said.
“It was found that the KRI Nanggala has been broken into three parts,” Yudo told the same press conference.
“There are parts that are still intact but with visible cracks. Parts of the ship were dislodged due to high pressure,” he said.
Yudo said the crew would not have survived at that depth.
“On behalf of the Indonesian Navy I express condolences on the death of the 53 naval personnel while on duty. To the families who are left behind, may they be granted fortitude,” he said.
Yudo said the cause of the accident was unlikely to be human error.
“The diving was carried out in accordance with proper procedures. This will be investigated and we will find out after the hull is lifted,” he said, adding recovery teams would be working to find and retrieve the bodies of the dead sailors.
A robotic arm attached to the Singaporean submersible was used to retrieve some items from the submarine that were found on the sea floor, including orange safety suits, Yudo said.
“The suits were kept in a box but they were out. It’s possible that they tried to use them in an emergency,” he told reporters, referring to the sailors.
Earlier on Sunday, Slamet Sarwono, the father of one of the crew members, Second Sergeant Eko Prasetyo, was still holding out that his son may still be alive.
“Whatever happened, I hope Eko and other crew members can be found safe,” Slamet told local news broadcaster Kompas TV.
Eko had served in the Navy for 11 years and left behind two children, he told the news channel.
The family of one of the other sailors declined to be interviewed by BenarNews, saying they needed time to grieve.
The KRI Nanggala-402 was built by German company Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft in 1977 and came into service in 1981, the Indonesian military said.
From 2009 to 2012, the submarine was retrofitted by South Korea’s Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering, officials said.
With the loss of the KRI Nanggala-402, Indonesia has four submarines left in its naval fleet.
Noah Lee in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.