Unidentified Object Found Floating at 100 Meters May be the Missing Sub

If it's not the submarine, authorities fear it may have sunk to a depth where it would almost certainly implode.
Jolene Creighton


Indonesian officials said the vessel would exhaust its oxygen supply today between 3 and 4 PM EDT (April 23, 2021). While the search has yet to be called off, it is with deep regret that we observe the passing of this deadline. With it comes the dwindling likelihood that the submarine, along with its crew of 53, survived. Please see our most recent coverage with the latest information. Our original coverage follows in full. 


The discovery of an unidentified, floating object has raised new questions in the quest for a missing submarine and its crew.

Earlier this week, an Indonesian submarine went missing during a routine military exercise in the Bali sea. There were 53 people on board. This prompted the country to reach out to neighboring countries, Singapore and Australia, in an attempt to find the sailors while they were still alive.

There was little time for the work to succeed. Chief of Staff Admiral Yudo Margono, of the Indonesian Navy, said the submarine carries enough oxygen for just 72 hours in total. At the time of writing, the sub has been missing for just over 48 hours. 

Now, teams have discovered an object with a "high magnetic force" floating at a depth of 50 to 100 meters in seas north of Bali. Notably, this is right about where a submarine disappeared. If the object detected is, in fact, the submarine, Navy authorities suspect the crew may have deliberately released its fuel load to allow it to float, according to ABC reports.

Otherwise, they fear the sub may have experienced a loss of power and, as a result, sunk to a depth where it would almost certainly implode.

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Ultimately, the submarine can dive 1,640 ft (500 m) below sea level; however, the military believes that it may have traveled as much as 660 ft (200 m) deeper than its maximum depth. The waters in the area that it went missing are somewhat shallower than in other locations in the archipelago, but they can still reach depths of more than 1,500 meters.

Margono said that the teams are now waiting for a navy ship with underwater detection facilities to arrive so they can investigate further. 

The crew of the sub consists of 49 crew members, a commander, and three gunners. "I have ordered the military chief, navy chief of staff, the search and rescue agency and other instances to deploy all the forces and the most optimal efforts to find and rescue the submarine crew," President Joko Widodo said on Thursday.

The new find and how subs surface 

In order to understand and contextualize this most recent news, it's necessary to understand a little about how modern ships work. To this end, ships are able to float because the water they displace is equal to the weight of the submerged part of the ship. This creates what is known as a buoyant force, which effectively is a force that works in the opposite direction of gravity.

To change depth, a submarine alternately fills tanks with water or air to sink or rise, as the need may require. Notably, submarines retain a supply of compressed air in air flasks for life support and for the ballast tanks. 

For a submerged submarine to surface, it needs to weigh less than the water its body displaces. This is where the idea about intentionally releasing the fuel comes from.

This was a breaking story and was regularly updated as information emerged. Our best hopes go out for the sailors and the search teams at work.