Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 23 September 2019

Argentinian submarine: hopes fade after explosion reported

A ‘hydro-acoustic anomaly’ was picked up hours after the ARA San Juan last made contact with naval authorities

A man ties an Argentine flag carrying solidarity messages to a fence at the Mar de Plata Naval Base. AP Photo/Esteban Felix
A man ties an Argentine flag carrying solidarity messages to a fence at the Mar de Plata Naval Base. AP Photo/Esteban Felix

Hopes faded further for the 44 crew members of an Argentinian submarine which has been missing since Tuesday last week after it was reported that an explosion was picked up by an international organisation soon after the last contact with the vessel was made with the country’s naval authorities.

Navy spokesman Enrique Balbi said evidence showed there had been “an anomalous event that was singular, short, violent and non-nuclear that was consistent with an explosion” on Tuesday 15, but said that searches would continue until they had “full certainty” about the fate of the ARA San Juan.

The Vienna-based Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) and the US Navy both said that a “hydro-acoustic anomaly” was reported just hours after the last communication came from the San Juan at 7.30 am local time. “According to this report, there was an explosion,” Mr Balbi told reporters. “We don’t know what caused an explosion of these characteristics at this site on this date.”

The San Juan was scheduled to arrive on Monday at the Mar del Plata Navy base, 400km to the southeast of the Argentinian capital Buenos Aires. Relatives of the crew have gathered at the base since the submarine failed to turn up. There were scenes of high emotion when the latest news broke, with family members breaking down in tears and hugging each other.

“They sent a piece of crap to sail,” said Itati Leguizamon, wife of submarine crew member German Suarez. “They inaugurated a submarine with a coat of paint and a flag in 2014, but without any equipment inside. The navy is to blame for its 15 years of abandonment.”

The German-built diesel-electric TR-1700 class submarine was commissioned in 1985 and was most recently refit in 2014. During the $12 million retrofitting, the vessel was cut in half and had its engines and batteries replaced. Experts say that refits can be difficult because they involve integrating systems produced by different manufacturers and even the smallest mistake during the cutting phase of the operation can put the safety of the ship and the crew at risk.

Even if the reports of the explosion are not related to the San Juan, the crew is now at the furthest limits of the oxygen supplies on board, which would keep them alive underwater for between seven and ten days. Earlier this week hopes had been raised by what appeared to be noises coming from an area of the Atlantic that appeared to suggest people might have been banging objects against the interior of the submarine’s hull.

The search location straddles the edge of the continental shelf, with widely varying ocean depths, some as great as 3,000 metres. Experts say the submarine could not have supported pressures that far down.


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


“If a submarine goes below its crush-depth, it would implode, it would just collapse,” said James H Patton Jr, a retired Navy captain. “It would sound like a very, very big explosion to any listening device.”

Claudio Rodriguez, brother of crew member Hernan Rodriguez, said his family suspects “the explosion was so strong that they were not able to rise to the surface or shoot any flares. They didn’t have time for anything.”

“As a family, we're grateful to all the people who prayed for us and for the families of all the 44,” he said.

Updated: November 24, 2017 02:14 AM