Search for missing Argentinian submarine fails to find any clues

ARA San Juan went missing with 44 crew members on board four days ago, in vast potential search area

A vast search by a multinational task force for an Argentinian submarine that went missing in the South Atlantic with 44 crew members four days ago has so far failed to provide any clues as to its possible location.

The hope that arose from seven failed satellite calls detected on Saturday morning, which Argentina’s defence ministry at first said could be from the missing submarine, is also dimming fast. The government on Sunday said it could not confirm that the attempts had come from the ARA San Juan.

“Regrettably, we have not yet had any contact with the submarine,” the Argentinian navy spokesman Enrique Balbi said on Sunday morning. The satellite call attempts were registered between 9am and 3pm on Saturday, lasting between four and 36 seconds, but there was no voice contact. “There were seven attempts with a very weak signal that failed to connect,” the officer said. “We are trying to squeeze that information to obtain some concrete data and a geolocation.”

Argentina submarine map

Argentina’s defence ministry said it was working on tracing the location of the calls with an unnamed US company that specialised in satellite communications.

The families of the ARA San Juan’s crew are deeply distressed, and urged the government to clarify the situation. “We want the government to confirm if the calls were from the submarine,” said Claudio Rodríguez, brother of the crew member Hernán Rodríguez, who was travelling on Sunday from his home in the western province of Mendoza to the submarine’s home port in Mar del Plata to join other relatives gathering there in desperate search of news.

A total of 13 ships and six aeroplanes are braving strong winds and high waves over an area of 66,000 sq km (25,500 sq miles) more than 400 km (250 miles) east of the bay of San Jorge off the coast of Patagonia in southern Argentina.

The Argentinian navy lost radio contact with the San Juan after its last scheduled transmission on Wednesday morning. It was on a 10-day voyage from Argentina’s southernmost port, Ushuaia, to the naval base at Mar del Plata, 250 miles (400km) south of Buenos Aires.

Argentina’s navy said it was not sure what had happened to the submarine or why it had lost contact but that it was now convinced the ship was beneath the surface and not adrift on choppy seas, as was previously thought.

The ARA San Juan leaving the port of Buenos Aires in 2014.
The ARA San Juan leaving the port of Buenos Aires in 2014. Photograph: Reuters

“At this point in the search and rescue mission we can’t discard any hypothesis,” said the Mar del Plata naval base chief Gabriel González on Saturday. “We haven’t been able to locate the submarine on the surface. That is why we are now giving priority to the search for the sunken submarine.”

The Argentina-born Pope Francis mentioned the missing vessel in his weekly Sunday prayers at the Vatican in Rome. “I also pray for the men of the crew of the Argentinian military submarine which is missing,” the pontiff said.

Among the planes overflying the area are a P-3 Orion plane belonging to Nasa, which has been diverted from a mission in the Antarctic, and a British Hercules C-130 stationed at the nearby Falkland Islands.

In 1982, the UK and Argentina fought a bitter war over the Falkland Islands – known by the latter as Las Malvinas. The Falkland Islands government issued a statement on Saturday supporting Argentina in its search. “The Falkland Islands government extends its sincere hope that the submarine is found swiftly,” the statement said.

The British polar ice patrol ship HMS Protector, equipped with sonar equipment, is also providing assistance.

The US Navy said early on Sunday morning it would send an additional P-8A Poseidon marine patrol plane specialising in anti-submarine warfare with 21 personnel from Jacksonville, Florida, to assist with the search for the German-built ARA San Juan.

Among the 44 crew members is Argentina’s first female submarine officer, 35-year-old Eliana Krawczyk. Her father, Eduardo Krawczyk, said: “We are extremely worried, with little news, waiting for information.”

Other relatives were equally distressed. “We don’t know anything, we’re desperate,” said Cristina Ramallo, whose brother Javier is on board.

Argentina’s president, Mauricio Macri, has travelled to the coastal city of Chapadmalal, near Mar del Plata, because of the situation.


Uki Goñi in Buenos Aires

The GuardianTramp

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