1 Dec 2017

Argentina ends rescue mission for missing sub

3:18 pm on 1 December 2017

The Argentine navy has said it has abandoned attempts to rescue 44 crew members on board a submarine that disappeared two weeks ago.

Submarines ARA San Juan, ARA Salta and ARA Santa Cruz upon arrival to Mar del Plata's Navy Base on June 13, 2014.

The submarines ARA San Juan, ARA Salta and ARA Santa Cruz in 2014. Photo: AFP

"Despite the magnitude of the efforts made, it has not been possible to locate the submarine," navy spokesman Enrique Balbi said on Thursday.

The sub, the ARA San Juan, last made contact on Wednesday 15 November.

Hopes of finding survivors faded after a suspected explosion was reported near its last-known location.

Capt Balbi said the search for the submarine had been "extended to more than double the number of days that determine the possibilities of rescuing the crew", but added that teams would continue to search for the vessel on the seabed.

He said the "phase had changed" and that the operation, involving numerous vessels and other submarines, was now a hunt for a wreck in the area where the ARA San Juan is believed to have vanished.

On Tuesday, Capt Balbi told reporters that water had entered the submarine's snorkel, which can be used to take in air from above the surface when the submarine is submerged.

The saltwater dripped onto a battery tray in the prow, causing the battery to short circuit and to smoulder, he said.

The navy spokesman's comments followed reports of an "abnormal, singular, short, violent, non-nuclear event" recorded in the south Atlantic by a nuclear test watchdog.

News of the suspected explosion on board the ARA San Juan was last week broken to relatives of the missing crew gathered at the Mar del Plata navy base, who responded with anger and tears.

Family members accused the navy of lying to them and of raising false hopes.

An international search mission to try and find the submarine has seen the deployment of 4000 personnel from more than a dozen countries.

The Argentine navy's last contact with the vessel was at approximately 07:30 on 15 November, at which point its captain had reportedly confirmed that the crew were well.

Eight days after the sub vanished, the Vienna-based Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty Organisation said that it had detected a noise a few hours after the sub's last contact.

The body, which operates a network of listening posts to monitor nuclear explosions, said that there had been a "hydro-acoustic anomaly" about 30 nautical miles (60km) north of the sub's last-known position at 10:31 local time.

The Argentine navy said it could have been the sound of the submarine imploding.

- BBC

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs