Sailors on Missing Submarine Will Run Out of Oxygen Saturday: Indonesian Navy Chief

The Indonesian navy is on the hunt for a missing submarine they believe sank over 2,000 feet below the surface, and warned that the 53-member crew will run out of oxygen by early Saturday morning.

The submarine was reported missing on Wednesday after it failed to check in during a training exercise, the Associated Press reported. Investigations have revealed an oil slick and the smell of diesel fuel near the starting position of its last dive, which was about 60 miles north of Bali.

Though there has been no conclusive evidence to link that site to the missing submarine, navy officials believe the vessel might have sunk thousands of feet below sea level, and could be at risk of collapse due to high pressure.

"Hopefully we can rescue them before the oxygen has run out," which will occur at 3 a.m. on Saturday morning, Navy Chief of Staff Admiral Yudo Margono said, according to the AP.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Indonesia submarine
Indonesian navy ships arrive at the naval base in Banyuwangi on April 22, 2021, to join in the search for a decades-old navy submarine that went missing off the coast of Bali with 53 crew aboard. AFP via Getty Images/Getty Images

Ahn Guk-hyeon, an official from South Korea's Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering, which refitted the vessel in 2009-2012, said the submarine would collapse if it goes deeper than around 200 meters (655 feet) because of pressure. He said his company upgraded much of the submarine's internal structures and systems but lacks recent information about the vessel.

Frank Owen, secretary of the Submarine Institute of Australia, also said the submarine could be at too great a depth for a rescue team to operate.

"Most rescue systems are really only rated to about 600 meters (1,970 feet)," he said. "They can go deeper than that because they will have a safety margin built into the design, but the pumps and other systems that are associated with that may not have the capacity to operate. So they can survive at that depth, but not necessarily operate."

Owen, a former submariner who developed an Australian submarine rescue system, said the Indonesian vessel was not fitted with a rescue seat around an escape hatch designed for underwater rescues. He said a rescue submarine would make a waterproof connection to a disabled submarine with a so-called skirt fitted over the recue seat so that the hatch can be opened without the disabled submarine filling with water.

Owen said the submarine could be recovered from 500 meters (1,640 feet) without any damage but couldn't say if it would have imploded at 700 meters (2,300 feet).

Indonesian President Joko Widodo asked all of the country's people to pray that the submarine and crew could be found.

"Our main priority is the safety of the 53 crew members," Widodo said in a televised address. "To the families of the crew members, I can understand your feelings and we are doing our best to save all of the crew members on board."

The military said more than 20 navy ships, two submarines and five aircraft were searching the area where the submarine was last detected. A hydro-oceanographic survey ship equipped with underwater detection capabilities also was on its way to the site around the oil spills.

Margono said the oil slick might have been caused by a crack in the submarine's tank after the vessel sank. Neighboring countries are rushing to join the complex operation.

Rescue ships from Singapore and Malaysia are expected to arrive between Saturday and Monday. The Indonesian military said Australia, the United States, Germany, France, Russia, India and Turkey have also offered assistance. South Korea said it has offered help.

"The news of the missing submarine is deeply concerning," Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said during a visit to New Zealand. "We will provide any assistance that we can. There's no question that submarine search and rescues are very complex."

Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton called the incident "a terrible tragedy." He told Sydney Radio 2GB that because the submarine is "in a very deep part of waters" it is "very difficult for the recovery or for location."

"Our fervent prayers and hopes go out to the crew of KRI Nanggala, for their safety and resilience," Singapore's Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen wrote on Facebook.

Indonesia's navy said an electrical failure may have occurred during the dive, causing the submarine to lose control and become unable to undertake emergency procedures that would have allowed it to resurface. It was rehearsing for a missile-firing exercise on Thursday, which was eventually canceled.

The German-built submarine, which has been in service in Indonesia since 1981, was carrying 49 crew members, its commander and three gunners, the Indonesian Defense Ministry said. It had been maintained and overhauled in Germany, Indonesia and most recently in South Korea.