53 Sailors Declared Dead After Indonesian Submarine Accident

On Sunday, April 25th, the Indonesian submarine, KRI Nanggala 402, with 53 sailors on board was found at the bottom of the sea outside of Bali. The sub was reported missing early on Wednesday morning, April 21st, leading to a fanatic international search to pinpoint its exact location. The hope of finding any survivors had been fading since Saturday when the crew was expected to have run out of oxygen. Four days after the vessel disappeared, the Indonesian military reported the sub was found 850 meters, broken into three pieces. 

The vessel was scheduled to conduct training exercises when it asked for permission to dive, but it lost contact shortly after. At first, Indonesian authorities considered the submarine as just missing. According to authorities, the search took multiple days due to the difficult circumstances of the deep water, and despite all support and additional searching methods, the submarine was not found in time to rescue the crew members. According to Reuters, 29-year-old resident Hein Ferdy Santoso said, “This can be a learning point for the government to advance its military technology and be careful in how it uses its existing technology because people’s lives are at stake.” Indonesian President Joko Widodo offered condolences Sunday to the families of the crew, whom he described as the country’s “best patriots.” “This tragedy shocked all of us. Not only the families of the 53 crew members… but also the entire Indonesian people,” he said. 

More than a dozen helicopters and ships helped to search the area where contact was lost, with assistance from Malaysia, the United States, Australia, and Singapore. Navy officials expressed their gratitude and said international help was crucial in recovering the remains of the vessel. Residents of Banyuwangi also joined nationwide calls to accelerate the modernization of Indonesia’s defense forces. Al Jazeera reports how Indonesia has recently desired to repair and update its military capability, but some of the equipment is still old, which has led to destructive accidents. This should be a wake-up call to demand extra safety precautions and heighten security within military technology. With undersea warfare intensity growing, multinational effort to collaborate and enhance submarine safety awareness and protocols as well as search and rescue techniques and tools is essential. Moreover, the government must support the families of the crew members at this devastating time, a task they have promised to achieve. NY Times reports that as President Joko Widodo expressed his condolences to the families, he further noted that the government would pay for their children’s education through college. 

As officials declared the submarine had sunk, there have been various speculations on why. Search teams said on Saturday that they had found objects near the submarine’s last known location, leading the navy to believe the vessel had cracked. Al Jazeera’s Jessica Washington reported from the Indonesian capital Jakarta, explaining that authorities believe it is unlikely that there was an explosion on board. In case of an explosion, the sub would have been in pieces, but the cracks seem to have happened gradually when they went down from 300 to 500 meters. Additionally, floating objects were found around the area the sub was found, and, according to Air Marshall Hadi Tjahjanto, these objects would have not gotten out unless there was an extreme amount of pressure. Another factor, according to NY Times, could be that the sub had 19 more people on board than it would typically carry. However, Navy Chief Yudo Margono confirmed the accident was due to a natural/environmental factor and not a human error but did not reveal any further details. While it is as yet unclear what caused the accident, the navy has previously said an electrical failure could have left the vessel unable to execute emergency procedures to resurface. 

Ultimately, as the accident seems to have been caused by natural hazards, it implies it was impossible to predict. However, this does not change the devastating outcome of the 53 lost sailors. Moving forward is critical to review all aspects of the incident to prevent it from ever happening again. All governments must take all precautions to protect their citizens and military, and with Indonesia’s history of previous submarine incidents, it is evident that the country is in serious need of revamping its marine tech. The president’s guarantee to provide for the crew member’s children’s education is certainly valuable, but we also need assurance that all military capability is investigated and modernized. The submarine’s sinking should remind all navies that advanced technology does not instantly prevent disasters. With undersea warfare’s intensity growing, it is critical for America along with various Pacific powers to incorporate procedures, multinational training, and cooperation to prevent future submariners from losing their lives.

Olivia Berntsson