Monday, December 6News That Matters

‘My heart is broken’: Families mourn lost Indonesian crew

Surabaya, Indonesia – Up until Sunday afternoon, Winny Widayanti was still trying to contact her husband, 45-year-old Colonel Harry Setiawan – one of the 53 crewmen on board the Indonesian submarine KRI Nanggala-402.

She took pictures of her husband’s friends who came to their house and sent them to him, and continued to send updates about their children, even though the messages were never returned.

“My heart is broken. It’s completely destroyed. The most difficult part is explaining it to my youngest child. I can’t hold back my tears,” she told Al Jazeera.

On Sunday evening, the Indonesian military announced that they had found the stricken submarine at a depth of almost 840 metres, broken into three pieces. Speaking at a press conference, military chief Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto also announced that all 53 crewmen had died.

The families of the crew of the KRI Nanggala-402 had continued to hold out hope, even as projected oxygen supplies ran out on Saturday, and had been praying for the safe return of the crewmen who had been missing for almost a week. The submarine lost contact on Wednesday as it was conducting live fire torpedo drills in waters north of the Indonesian island of Bali in the early hours of the morning.

But as news that the seamen had perished spread, family members paid tribute to the crew of stricken submarine, which was built in 1977 and went into service for the Indonesian Navy in 1981.

‘A great man’

A portrait of Munawir and his family. Aura Aulia is on the right [Courtesy of Aura Aulia]

Aura Aulia told Al Jazeera that her father, Second Lieutenant Munawir, was a serious and straightforward seaman who was known for his disciplined style.

“If someone asked him to do something, he would immediately start working on it without a word,” she said.

“Even when he wasn’t working, he always wanted to be doing something productive like tinkering with the engine of his car or motorbike, or fixing things around the house.

“He also loved to travel and had a great sense of adventure. He was always taking us on holidays all over Indonesia to places like Malang, Blitar and Madura, or we would go out to eat together as a family.”

Second Lieutentant Munawir was 41.

Gresilia, the wife of First Sergeant Rusdiyansyah Rahman who was in charge of electro-communications on the KRI Nanggala-402, told Al Jazeera that the couple has an 18-day-old baby, and that she was waiting for the first-time father to come back from sea so he could spend time with their son, Muhammad Elzayn Firendra Rahman.

“He had promised to come with me to get our son’s first vaccinations when he returned from sailing. But now he’s gone forever. I will tell my son that his father was a great man.”

“Even though this is the toughest test of my life, I am trying to accept it and leave everything to God. May my husband rest peacefully, because he died in the line of duty and the search teams did their best,” the 26-year-old said.

More than a dozen vessels and aircraft were involved in the search for the submarine, with Singapore, Malaysia, India, Australia and the United States sending specialised equipment to assist the Indonesian authorities.

The submarine was eventually located using an underwater rescue vessel sent from Singapore, which was able to get visual confirmation of the broken pieces of the KRI Nanggala-402.

Gresilia is comforted by a friend, She and her husband First Sergeant Rusdiyansyah Rahman had just become parents for the first time [Reno Surya/Al Jazeera]

Recovery efforts

The Indonesian military has said it will try to “evacuate” the vessel after finding debris from the submarine including prayer mats and life vests, but that the depth would complicate those efforts and require specialised equipment.

Colonel Setiawan’s mother, Ida Farida, told Al Jazeera that she is proud of her son – who was not even supposed to be on the submarine, but had decided to join at the last minute to oversee the training exercises.

“I didn’t want him to be taken first instead of me, but he died doing his duty. He fulfilled his pledge to his country to the end of his life,” she said.

The 80-year-old added that she hoped the recovery mission would continue until the crewmen are found.

“I hope my child’s body can be recovered, whatever condition it may be in. We wish to bury him in the family grave in Cilubajang in Sukabumi with his late father who was a retired Air Force officer.”

On Monday, Indonesian president Joko Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, announced that the 53 crewmen would receive the Bintang Jalasena or Navy Meritorious Service Star, which is usually awarded to members of the Indonesian Navy for service beyond the call of duty.

He added that all children of the crewmen would have their education funded to bachelor’s degree level at university.

Colonel Setiawan’s wife Winny says her heart is broken over the loss of her husband, who was the commander of the MRI Nanggala-402 [Ivan Darski/Al Jazeera]

Sheva Naufal Zidane, Colonel Setiawan’s 18-year-old son, told Al Jazeera that he plans to follow in his father’s footsteps despite the tragedy that befell the KRI Nanggala-402.

“My father was a family man. In my eyes he was a role model and he set such a good example for me,” he said.

“Ever since I was little, I was always closest to my father. He always told me tales of being in the Navy. My hope is that I can join the Navy too. Next year I will take the entrance test, and hopefully I will pass and make my father proud.”