Argentine Submarine Hit By Explosion, Fate Of 44 Crew Members Unknown

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BUENOS AIRES – The Argentine navy confirmed on Thursday that its missing submarine experienced an explosion November 15 in the south Atlantic Ocean but had no information on the fate of the 44 crew members.

“There was an anomalous event (which was) unusual, short, violent and non-nuclear, consistent with an explosion,” Argentine navy spokesman Captain Enrique Balbi said at a news conference in Buenos Aires, the capital.

Satellite calls detected over the weekend during a search and rescue operation for a missing Argentine submarine did not come from the vessel, as previously believed.

Balbi declined to speculate on the fate of the crew and whether there was a chance of rescuing them. Assuming that the submarine remained intact after the blast and is resting on the ocean floor, the ship had only a seven-day supply of oxygen, which might have run out Wednesday.

The explosion took place 390 km miles east of the Valdes Peninsula in Argentina’s Chubut province. The blast was detected less than 64 km from where the submarine’s captain, Pedro Fernandez, last communicated with onshore authorities and mentioned problems with the ship’s battery system.

Balbi explained the delay in the announcement by saying his government received confirmation of the explosion Wednesday from the US Navy, which received and analysed the data collected from its sonar technology. Separate confirmation came Thursday morning from an Austria-based agency that monitors for violations of the global ban on nuclear testing.

Relatives of crew members, who said they were told the news shortly before the Thursday morning news conference, said they were enraged by the Argentine Navy’s handling of the information.

“Now there is no hope. We are furious. They are shameless,” said Itati Leguizamon, wife of the sub’s radar specialist German Oscar Suarez, speaking of navy officials. “They lied to us. How are they not going to know (before now) that there was an explosion?”

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Balbi said various ships and aircraft participating in the multinational search and rescue operation are now on their way to the area to look for and recover the submarine. Included are ships capable of mapping the ocean floor. Balbi cautioned that even once the sub is located, rescue could be complicated by ocean depths.

The US Navy has also sent two aircraft capable of detecting submarines below or above the ocean surface, and manned and unmanned underwater vehicles capable of cutting into the submarine and extracting the crew.

The submarine disappeared as it cruised from Ushuaia in Argentina’s southern extremity toward the Mar del Plata naval base. Word of the disappearance spurred assistance from 13 nations, including Russia, Great Britain, Peru, Brazil and France in addition to the U.S.

The submarine was launched in 1983 and underwent maintenance in 2008 in Argentina. Its four diesel engines and its electric propeller engines were replaced, according to specialist publication Jane’s Sentinel.

Spokesman Enrique Balbi described the blast in the morning of November 15 as “abnormal, singular, short, violent” and “non-nuclear”.

A huge sea and air hunt is being conducted for the ARA San Juan, which went missing with 44 crew on board. – MCT, Reuters