China is sending ships to help recover Indonesia's lost sub and potentially study the area where it wrecked

  • China’s Defense Ministry says that the vessels will help efforts to recover the KRI Nanngala 402.
  • Indonesia expects three Chinese navy ships to join international efforts to salvage the lost sub.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

China is sending rescue vessels to help retrieve the Indonesian submarine that sunk with the loss of all 53 crew members.

Ren Guoqiang, a spokesman for the defence ministry, said late on Friday that the ships had been sent upon the invitation of Indonesian government and they were heading for the Lombok Strait to help recover the KRI Nanggala 402, which went missing last Wednesday when taking part in a torpedo drill.

Citing an unnamed Chinese submarine expert, the state-owned tabloid Global Times said the rescue mission could also help China “study the maritime military geography of the area where the submarine was wrecked, as well as expanding the international cooperation and influence of our navy in submarine rescue and salvage.”

While the statement did not give further details of the ships the Chinese military has sent, the Indonesian Navy Information Service said in a statement on Saturday that three Chinese salvage ships, including a Type 925 rescue ship Yongxingdao, were expected to reach the waters off Bali where the sub was lost within days and would join its counterparts from Indonesia, the US, Australia Malaysia, Singapore and India in the recovery efforts.

On Friday, Indonesian navy chief Yudo Margono said the local authorities were waiting for the arrival of two ships, including one from China, that are equipped to handle deep-sea salvage operations.

With no hope of finding survivors, Indonesia has said it will salvage the submarine, which was found in three pieces more than 800 metres below the surface.

China has been building up its own submarine rescue fleet after one of its vessels sank during an exercise in the Yellow Sea in April 2003 with the loss of all 70 crew members — one of the Chinese military’s worst peacetime disasters.

There has been speculation that China may also send one of its most advanced Type 926 supply and rescue ships, the Liugongdao, which is currently with the South Sea Fleet, to Indonesia to help with the salvage operations.

The vessel is equipped with a British-made deep-submergence rescue vehicle and a remotely operated underwater vehicle that can operate at a depth of 1,000 metres, Global Times reported.

While China’s submarine rescue ships have taken part in international exercises in the past, it will be the first time it has taken place in an international recovery mission of this sort.

Song Zhongping, a former PLA instructor and military analyst, said the “highly challenging operation” could provide valuable experience for the future and would offer the opportunity to study the topography of the seabed that “would be beneficial to the navy.”

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