JAKARTA, Indonesia – The Indonesian Navy is looking for a submarine that has disappeared north of the holiday island of Bali with 53 people on board, the military said on Wednesday.
Military chief Hadi Tjahjanto said KRI Nanggala 402 was participating in a training exercise when it missed a scheduled reporting call.
The submarine is said to have disappeared in waters about 95 kilometers north of Bali, he said.
Tjahjanto said the Navy used dozens of vessels to search the area, including a hydrographic survey ship, and asked for help from Singapore and Australia, which have submarine rescue vessels.
According to local media reports, the Navy believes that the submarine sank into a trough at a depth of 700 meters.
The Department of Defense said in a statement that the submarine lost contact after it was given permission to dive. It was said that a helicopter later discovered an oil spill near where the dive started.
The submarine carried 49 crew members, its commander and three gunners.
The German-built submarine, which has been in service in Indonesia since 1981, was rehearsing a missile launch exercise that was supposed to take place on Thursday. Tjahjanto and other military leaders should attend.
Indonesia currently has a fleet of five submarines and plans to operate at least eight submarines by 2024.
The country, the largest archipelago nation in the world with more than 17,000 islands, has faced increasing challenges to its maritime claims in recent years, including numerous incidents involving Chinese ships near the Natuna Islands.
Last year, President Joko Widodo reaffirmed the country’s sovereignty during a visit to the archipelago on the edge of the South China Sea.
His visit came a week after Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang insisted that Chinese fishermen are free to conduct activities in what China claims as its traditional fishing grounds, some of which overlap Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone.
The Geng declaration met with outrage in Indonesia and prompted the military to reinforce its armed forces in the islands. Although China has made such claims for years, recently dozens of Chinese fishing boats escorted by Coast Guard ships have reportedly taken more aggressive steps in the area and ignored Indonesian warnings to leave.