Tributes should go to the 53 crew members of the KRI Nanggala 402 who perished inside their Germany-made submarine, which the Indonesian Military (TNI) said had sunk on Sunday.
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s decision to posthumously raise the military ranks of the sailors, award them Jalasena state medals and provide scholarships to their children constitutes the highest appreciation for their service to the nation.
There is no greater pride for any soldier than to die in the line of duty, either in war or other state missions, which could also be the case of Brig. Gen. I Gusti Putu Danny, the head of Papua’s chapter of the State Intelligence Agency (BIN), who was killed in a crossfire in the restive Papua regency of Puncak on Sunday.
The KRI Nanggala 402 reportedly lost power as it was preparing the launch a torpedo during an exercise in the waters north of Bali on Wednesday.
The public, which had followed the operation to rescue the 53 crew members ever since the vessel was declared missing, shared the grief of the Navy personnel’s families and posted their condolence message on social media. In a show of respect, some even flew the national flag at half-mast, which is normally done when a VVIP passes away.
The world’s naval community, in the name of seaman brotherhood, also sent their condolences.
Needless to say, the tragedy is saddening, not only for the family of the crew members but also the TNI, which has been struggling to modernize its primary defense system amid budget restrictions and embargoes.
The TNI deployed various aircraft and vessels and sought assistance from neighboring countries as soon as it lost contact with the submarine in its bid to save the sailors. Vessels from Singapore, Malaysia, India and Australia and an antisubmarine aircraft from the United States joined the search efforts, only to find the submarine’s wreckage at 838 meters below sea level.
TNI chief Air Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto said the KRI Nanggala 402 had broken up into three parts, dismissing any chances of the crew’s survival.
This tragedy adds to the list of accidents involving the country’s aging — as well as newly bought — defense equipment. The German-made KRI Nanggala 402, for example, was built 44 years ago and underwent a refit in 2012.
In June last year, a Hawk 100/200 training fighter jet belonging to the Air Force and an Mi-17 helicopter belonging to the Army crashed within a span of nine days. While the fighter jet accident in Riau claimed no lives as the pilot had managed to eject in time, the helicopter crash in Kendal, Central Java, killed four of the nine soldiers on board.
But arguably the most tragic TNI accident of this century is that of the Air Force’s Hercules C-130, which crashed in a residential area of Medan, North Sumatra, in June 2015. As many as 126 people were killed in the tragedy.
As the KRI Nanggala 402 sailors are now on their eternal patrol, our grief for their loss will mean little if no improvements are made to our defense system, including with regard to the procurement of submarines, warships, aircraft and tanks.