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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

Argentina dares to hope as faint sounds are heard that could come from missing submarine

The search for the missing San Juan has been narrowed down to a 120 square kilometre area of the Atlantic

Children walk by signs in support of the 44 crew members of the ARA San Juan submarine missing at sea, placed on a fence at the Argentine Naval Base where it sailed from, in Mar del Plata, Argentina November 20, 2017. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci
Children walk by signs in support of the 44 crew members of the ARA San Juan submarine missing at sea, placed on a fence at the Argentine Naval Base where it sailed from, in Mar del Plata, Argentina November 20, 2017. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci

There were faint signs of hope on Monday in the search for the ARA San Juan, an Argentina submarine containing 44 crew members which was last seen on Wednesday 15, after it was reported that noises had been picked up from what could be the vessel.

Two ships engaged in the rescue effort detected with their sonar systems noises which could be tools being banged against the hull of the craft, a practice which is recommended for submariners in distress.

The Argentinian navy believes that they have narrowed down the area in which the sounds have come from to 120 square kilometre area about 530km from the Atlantic coast of Argentina.

The US Navy has sent a P-8A Poseidon plane to help with the search, which is now focused on an area of the ocean that is extremely deep.

Earlier on Monday, Argentina’s navy revealed that a submarine missing for five days reported a mechanical breakdown in its final communication, and that weekend signals did not come from the vessel.

The nature of the breakdown was not immediately clear. It was the first time the navy indicated it had been aware of a problem.

“The vessel surfaced and it reported a breakdown. It was therefore asked to change course and go to Mar del Plata,” said Gabriel Galeazzi, the head of the naval base in the northeastern city.

Enrique Balbi, a spokesman for the navy, meanwhile told a press conference in the capital that seven signals received by naval bases over the weekend were not attempted distress calls from the submarine, as previously hoped.

“We’ve received the report from the company that analysed the signals -- the seven attempted calls did not come from the submarine’s satellite phone,” he said, adding: “We have still been unable to contact them.”

A multinational air and sea search is under way with help from countries including Brazil, Britain, Chile, the United States and Uruguay.

The submarine’s fate has gripped the nation, with President Argentina Mauricio Macri vowing to find it as soon as possible, as relatives of crew members wait nervously for news in Mar del Plata.

The navy said Saturday it had received seven calls that day but they did not lock in, an announcement that left many cautiously optimistic they were signs of life from the vessel's crew.

On Sunday, a flag was unfurled at the naval base that read: ‘Be strong Argentina, We trust in God, We wait for you.’

At the Vatican, Argentine-born Pope Francis said he offered “his fervent prayer” for the safety of the submarine sailors.

Search efforts meanwhile have been hampered by inclement weather, including a powerful storm that has whipped up waves reaching 7m in height.

The US Navy has deployed two unmanned underwater vehicles that use a sonar system to create an image of large sections of the sea floor.

Britain’s Royal Navy said it had sent the HMS Protector, an Antarctic patrol ship.

The TR-1700 class submarine had been returning from a routine mission to Ushuaia, near the southernmost tip of South America, to Mar del Plata.

It is one of three submarines in the Argentine fleet.