Tenth day passes but still no trace of lost Argentine submarine

ARA San Juan vanished along with 44 crew: ‘we are at a stage of hope and hopelessness’

The banner reads: “God, give strength to the submariners.” Photograph: Reuters

The banner reads: “God, give strength to the submariners.” Photograph: Reuters

 

No sign of the Argentine submarine lost in the south Atlantic since November 15th has been found despite a massive international search effort, while families of the 44 crew members face the increasing likelihood that their loved ones will never return.

Saturday marked the 10th day since the ARA San Juan submarine reported its last position off Argentina’s southern coast. Reports of a sound detected underwater near the last known position of the vessel suggest it might have imploded after reporting an electrical problem.

A shot from the Argentina Navy shows the ARA San Juan, a German-built diesel-electric submarine, at the sea’s surface near Buenos Aires, Argentina. File photograph: Argentina Navy/AP
A shot from the Argentina Navy shows the ARA San Juan, a German-built diesel-electric submarine, near Buenos Aires, Argentina. File photograph: Argentina Navy/AP

But citing respect for the families, navy spokesman Enrique Balbi declined to say anything to confirm the now-common belief that the crew had perished.

“We are at a stage of hope and hopelessness at the same time,” Balbi told reporters. “We will not speculate beyond the facts as we know them.”

He said seven ships were braving 3m (11ft) waves to map the ocean floor where the San Juan was most likely to be found.

A deep diving rescue vehicle, dispatched by the US navy, to support the Argentine government’s search and rescue efforts. Photograph: Getty Images
A deep diving rescue vehicle, dispatched by the US navy, to support the Argentine government’s search and rescue efforts. Photograph: Getty Images

The US Navy said it had deployed unmanned underwater vehicles, or “mini-subs” equipped with sonar, to join the search. A Russian plane arrived in Argentina on Friday carrying search equipment capable of reaching 6,000 meters (20,000 feet) below the sea surface, said Mr Balbi.

The search effort also includes ships and planes from Brazil, Chile, Great Britain and other countries.

Families of the crew are, meanwhile, stuck in an emotional purgatory.

“The problem with being the loved one of someone who is missing is that the mourning process cannot start, because they are still out there somewhere,” said local psychologist Guillermo Bruchstein. “They are gone but are not dead.”

The families have said they suspect the more than 30-year-old vessel was not properly maintained, a charge the government denies, and that the navy has been slow in sharing information with them.

Relatives expressed anger at the level of funding of the armed forces, whose budget has declined since the fall of a military dictatorship in the 1980s.

A Russian Antonov 124-100 lands at Comodoro Rivadavia airport in Chubut, Argentina, to help with the search and rescue mission. Photograph: Getty Images
A Russian Antonov 124-100 lands at Comodoro Rivadavia airport in Chubut, Argentina, to help with the search and rescue mission. Photograph: Getty Images

“The loss of the San Juan is a consequence of the fact that the abandonment and degradation of our defence forces has been an official policy,” Argentine senator Pino Solanas of the independent Project South party told local radio on Saturday.

Concerns about the crew’s fate have set off a fierce political debate in a society sharply divided between supporters of President Mauricio Macri and opposition Peronists, who have been quick to find fault with the government’s response.