Indian Navy races to rescue Indonesian submarine crew - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Thursday 22 April 2021

Indian Navy races to rescue Indonesian submarine crew

The SCI Sabarmati, which is kitted out as the mothership of the Deep Submergence Rescue Vessel 

By Ajai Shukla

Business Standard, 22nd Apr 21


The Indian Navy is racing to locate an Indonesian Navy submarine, which has disappeared north of Bali with 53 sailors on board. The German-built submarine, named KRI Nanggala, has less than 72 hours of oxygen on board. Regional navies, including the Singapore and Malaysian navies have swung into action and the US, Australia, France and Germany have offered help.


Indonesia shares a “comprehensive strategic partnership” with India, which binds it to assist. Even more important for the Indian Navy is its image as the naval power with the biggest and best resourced navy in the region.


“On 21 April, an alert was received by Indian Navy through International Submarine Escape and Rescue Liaison Office (ISMERLO), regarding the missing Indonesian submarine,” said India’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) on Wednesday.


Fortunately, the Indian Navy is well equipped for the job. In 2018, it acquired two “deep submergence rescue vessels” (DSRVs) from M/s James Fisher Defence, UK. These were primarily meant for rescuing crew members from stricken Indian submarines. But, with New Delhi taking on a leadership role in the Indian Ocean Region, the DSRV will be made available for emergencies involving other navies as well.


“Currently, there are about 40 nations that operate submarines in the world, out of which only a few have any form of submarine rescue capability. The third generation Indian Navy submarine rescue capability can, therefore, be called upon to assist during submarine contingencies of other navies in the Indian Ocean Region,” says the Indian Navy website.


India ordered two DSRVs so that one each could be based on its western and eastern coasts, in order to respond rapidly to an emergency in either direction. In a submarine accident, speed of response is critical for saving the lives of the crew. For that reason, India procured its DSRVs in a “flyaway configuration”, teamed with Indian Air Force heavy transport aircraft that can rapidly transport it from its home base to an airfield from where it can be transported onwards by air, land or sea. 


The first rescue complex was inaugurated at Visakhapatnam on 10 June 2020. It is from here that India is coordinating its response. However, with the DSRV being despatched on its mothership, the SCI Sabarmati, rather than by air, the 2,500 nautical miles journey will require 6-7 days to reach Bali.


Indian Navy divers have trained extensively for underwater emergencies. The DSRV, which is operated by a crew of three, can rescue 14 personnel from a disabled submarine at one time. The rescue of 53 sailors would involve four dives.
On 15 Oct 2018, the DSRV carried out underwater mating with a bottomed submarine, at a depth of over 300 feet. After mating with the submarine, the DSRV opened the submarines’ hatches and transferred personnel to the DSRV.


“India is amongst the few countries in the world capable of undertaking Search and Rescue of a disabled submarine through a DSRV. Indian Navy’s DSRV system can locate a submarine up to 1000 metres in depth, utilising its state of the art Side Scan Sonar (SSS) and Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV),” said the MoD statement. 


“After the distressed submarine is successfully located, another sub-module of the DSRV – the Submarine Rescue Vehicle (SRV) – mates with the submarine to rescue the trapped personnel. The SRV can also be used to provide emergency supplies to the submarine,” it stated.


  1. The sunken submarine has 72 hours of oxygen left and the rescue ship will take 6-7 days to reach, hmmm??

    What am I missing?

  2. Sadly, they have only air left for a day (Sat), so by the time we get there, it will be a recovery, not a resuce mission.


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