Argentina’s Navy launched a desperate search for a missing submarine yesterday, as fears for the crew’s wellbeing swept the nation. The Navy confirmed that it lost contact with the ARA San Juan, a submarine that was carrying 44 crewmembers off the country’s southern coast.
Officials said they mounted an extensive search and the government set up an operation base in Mar del Plata to monitor the operation. The TR-1700 class diesel electric submarine had been returning from a routine mission to Ushuaia, to its base at Mar del Plata. The Navy said that ships and aircraft were searching near the last known location of the San Juan, a German-built diesel-electric vessel, which had not been heard from since Wednesday.
The Navy said it was scanning all possible radio transmission frequencies for a sign of the vessel. Navy spokesman Enrique Balbi played down concerns, telling reporters that it is possible that the submarine has an electrical issue. Balbi said it could not yet be termed lost.
“We have not been able to find, or have visual or radar communication with the submarine,” navy spokesman Enrique Balbi told a press conference.
“The last position (registered) was two days ago. Without wanting to be alarmist or overdramatic, the facts are that there no form of communications could be established between the vessel and its command, even with the alternative methods that the submarine has,” Balbi said.
“What we interpret is that there must have been a serious problem with the communications (infrastructure) or with the electrical supply, cables, antennae or other (onboard) equipment.” The Navy said it launched an air and sea search on Thursday, involving a destroyer and two corvettes. Reports in the local media said the United Kingdom, Chile and the United States had offered to assist. An initial search in an area around the sub’s lastknown position, 430 kilometres off Península Valdés, provided no clues.
‘NO EMERGENCY’ YET
Balbi said the search was hampered “because it was carried out at night and in bad meteorological conditions prevailing in the area of operations.” Admiral Gabriel González, chief of the Mar del Plata base that was the submarine’s destination, said the vessel had sufficient food and oxygen. “We have a loss of communications; we are not talking of an emergency,” he said.
Still, relatives of some of the crewmembers were at the base awaiting word of the search. “We are praying to God and asking that all Argentines help us to pray that they keep navigating and that they can be found,” Claudio Rodriguez, the brother of one of the crewmembers, said to reporters on Todo Noticias.
Among those on board is Argentina’s first female submarine officer, weapons officer Eliana Krawczyk, 35. “Let us pray that nothing has happened to any crewmember. At sea they are all brothers, and a submarine carries more risk than a ship,” her father Eduardo told Todo Noticias. “We have faith that it’s only a loss of communications,” he added. Balbi appealed for caution.
“I don’t want to dramatise the issue. We’re lacking communication and don’t know what happened,” he said. The San Juan is one of three submarines in the Argentine fleet. Sixty-five metres (213 feet) long and seven metres wide, it was built by Germany’s Thyssen Nordseewerke and launched in 1983. It underwent a re-fit between 2007 and 2014 to extend its usefulness by some 30 years.