Argentinian submarine hunt to return to previously searched area

Move comes as relatives of those onboard express fury at delay in launching rescue and RAF aircraft arrives to help with search

Ships and planes hunting for an Argentinian submarine that went missing in the south Atlantic a week ago are to return to a previously searched area as relatives of those onboard voiced their frustrations with rescue efforts.

An Argentinian navy spokesman, Captain Enrique Balbi, said search teams would return to the area about 30 miles north of the ARA San Juan’s last registered position after a “hydro-acoustic anomaly” was determined by the US and specialist agencies to have been produced just hours after the final contact with the submarine on 15 November.

“It’s a noise. We don’t want to speculate” about what caused it, Balbi said.

With the seven-day limit on the ARA San Juan’s oxygen reserves having been reached on Wednesday morning, what hopes that remain are pinned on the submarine having been able to replenish its oxygen supply by surfacing at some point during the past week.

Helena Alfaro was just one of many family members who congregated at the Mar del Plata naval base where the submarine was originally scheduled to arrive on Monday.

“I feel like I’m waiting for a corpse,” said Alfaro, the sister of Cristian Ibañez, a radar officer on the missing submarine.

“So much protocol, so much protocol,” she complained to TN news network, referring to the Argentinian navy’s long delay in advising the president, Mauricio Macri, that it had lost contact with the submarine.

Justifying the delay, navy chiefs said that military protocol advises a 48-hour waiting period before beginning search efforts for submarines lost at sea.

“I feel like I’m at a wake, that’s how I feel,” said a tearful Alfaro. “I also feel time passing and time is crucial. I’m deeply pained by the decisions taken. Why so much protocol? Is protocol going to bring them back?”

Macri is reportedly angry with his navy commanders because of their handling of the crisis. According to the Infobae website, Macri’s defence minister, Oscar Aguad, only learned the submarine was missing when he read about it in the press, after the navy announced last Saturday that it had lost contact with the San Juan on 15 November.

Also being called into question is the wisdom of having deployed a 34-year-old submarine to make the 10-day journey from the Argentinian port of Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world, to the naval base in Mar del Plata.

The state of disrepair of Argentina’s naval fleet has long been an issue in the country. In one notorious incident, the navy’s British-built destroyer Santisima Trinidad, which participated on the Argentinian side in the 1982 war with Britain over the Falkland Islands, sank while moored at the Puerto Belgrano naval base in 2013. It took the navy two years to refloat the vessel.

In a video that went viral online, Macri can be seen being berated by a relative of a San Juan crew member during his visit to the Mar del Plata base on Monday morning because of the age of the submarine.

“It’s practically suicide to send them out in something so old,” a female relative is heard telling the president in the video. “Couldn’t you invest the state budget in trying to buy a new submarine? You’re playing with the lives of our people. Does someone have to die for things to change?”

The UK Ministry of Defence said on Wednesday that an RAF aircraft had landed in Argentina to help with the search efforts. The MoD said the British military plane, which took off from Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, is packed with three tonnes of equipment, including 12 deep emergency life-support pods.

HMS Protector, a Royal Navy ice patrol ship that arrived on Sunday, was deployed to the vessel’s last known location, and used its sonar equipment to search below the waves for the missing sub.

An RAF C-130 has also joined the search following an offer of assistance, and members of the specialist Submarine Parachute Assistance Group are also offering expert advice.

HMS Clyde, an offshore patrol vessel that was returning from a patrol to South Georgia, has also assisted with the search efforts.


Uki Goñi and agencies

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Argentinian submarine search intensifies as fears grow for crew
Missing naval vessel ARA San Juan has one day’s worth of oxygen reserves left after six days without contact

Uki Goñi

21, Nov, 2017 @5:54 PM

Article image
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

Uki Goñi in Buenos Aires

19, Nov, 2017 @4:29 PM

Article image
Argentinian buys Google’s domain name for £2
Designer living in Buenos Aires says he snapped up after noticing it available in registry

Alex Hern

27, Apr, 2021 @10:37 AM

Article image
Argentinian families to visit newly identified soldiers' Falklands graves
Advances in DNA and sensitive cooperation have allowed bodies of 90 soldiers to be identified

Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor

25, Mar, 2018 @9:24 AM

Article image
Falklands: Argentinian soldiers' relatives to put names on graves
Identification of previously unknown soldiers made possible thanks to DNA testing and humanitarian initiative

Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor

11, Mar, 2018 @3:16 PM

Article image
Argentina: grief and anger after 'explosion' near missing submarine
Sound described as ‘abnormal’ was heard on day that contact was lost, navy spokesman confirms

Uki Goñi in Buenos Aires and agencies

23, Nov, 2017 @7:08 PM

Article image
Seized Argentinian sailing ship leaves Ghana
Argentinian navy vessel detained over US 'vulture fund' claim is released after international court ruling

David Smith, Africa correspondent

20, Dec, 2012 @2:54 PM

Article image
Prosecutor’s death not suicide, says Argentinian president
Kirchner had been accused of coverup over a bombing in Buenos Aires by investigator Alberto Nisman, who died on Sunday

Uki Goñi in Buenos Aires

22, Jan, 2015 @1:59 PM

Article image
Argentinian president celebrates tracing of activist's abducted grandchild

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner congratulates Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo leader, Estela Carlotto, whose grandchild was one of 500 infants of dissidents 'disappeared' in 1970s

Uki Goni in Buenos Aires

06, Aug, 2014 @8:17 PM

Article image
Argentina's navy searches for missing submarine with 44 crew on board
The San Juan has been missing off the coast of Patagonia for more than two days, and the navy denies that communication was lost after a fire on board

Uki Goñi in Buenos Aires and agencies

18, Nov, 2017 @2:35 AM