Argentina missing submarine: Russia joins search operation


Argentina missing submarine: Russia joins search operation

Image copyright AFP
Image caption People pray outside a Navy base in Mar del Plata a week after the sub's disappearance

Argentina has accepted help from Russia in the search for a military submarine that went missing with 44 crew in the southern Atlantic a week ago.

President Mauricio Macri said the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, had phoned him to offer to deploy a survey vessel and crew with experience of similar operations.

More than a dozen countries, including the US, are taking part in the search.

The ARA San Juan vanished after it reported an electric breakdown.

It last made contact with naval officers on land last Wednesday.

A navy spokesman, Captain Enrique Balbi, said the search had now entered "a critical phase," amid fears that oxygen supplies may be running low.

He later told Argentine journalists that the Navy was investigating reports of a loud noise detected in the area a few hours after the ARA San Juan went missing.

He described it as a "hydro-acoustic anomaly" and refused to confirm whether there had been an explosion.

The whole country has been following the news closely, hoping that the sub is located before it runs out of oxygen.

Brazil, Chile, Colombia, France, Germany, Peru, South Africa, Uruguay and the UK are among the countries that have sent either ships or planes to help with the search.

The US Navy has deployed two underwater vehicles which use sonar to create images of the sea floor.

What happened to the sub?

The ARA San Juan was returning from a routine mission to Ushuaia, near the southern-most tip of South America, when it reported an "electrical breakdown".

According to naval commander Gabriel Galeazzi, the submarine surfaced and reported the breakdown, which Capt Galeazzi described as a "short circuit" in the sub's batteries.

The sub was ordered to cut its mission short and return to the naval base in Mar del Plata immediately.

According to navy spokesman Enrique Balbi, the captain of the ARA San Juan contacted the naval base once more after reporting the problem.

In the message, he reportedly said that the problem had been adequately fixed and that the sub would submerge and proceed towards Mar del Plata naval base.

The last contact was made at 07:30 local time (10:30 GMT) on Wednesday 15 November. It is not known what happened to the sub after that contact.

Read: What happens when a submarine vanishes

How was the alarm raised?

Argentine navy protocol stipulates that in peace time, submarines make contact twice a day with the base.

When the submarine failed to call in, the Argentine navy began its search for the vessel.

ARA San Juan submarine

Missing since 15 November

  • Built in Germany: 1983

  • Length: 66 metres

  • Crew: 44

  • Top speed: 45 km/h

  • Range: 22,224 km


Navy commander Carlos Zavalla at that point spoke only of a "failure to communicate" and urged relatives of the crew to remain calm.

There was no mention by navy officials of the vessel having any problems at the time and rumours of a fire on board were dismissed by the navy's spokesman, Enrique Balbi.

When did news of the breakdown emerge?

On Sunday, relatives of some of the crew said that they had been told in messages sent before contact with the submarine was lost, that there was a problem with the sub's batteries.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Naval commander Gabriel Galeazzi told journalists about the mechanical problems on Monday

On Monday, Capt Galeazzi confirmed the sub's captain had reported a breakdown on Wednesday describing it as a "short-circuit" in the sub's battery system.

Capt Galeazzi said that mechanical problems were not uncommon and rarely posed a risk. "A warship has a lot of backup systems, to allow it to move from one to another when there is a breakdown," he said.

He also said that the sub had not sent a distress signal to the navy base.

Who is on board?

There are 44 crew on board the submarine, which is under the command of Pedro Martín Fernández.

Forty-three of the crew are men but there is also one woman, Eliana María Krawczyk. The 35-year-old is the first female officer in Argentina to serve on a submarine.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Her family says it was Eliana María Krawczyk's dream to become a submariner

Nicknamed "the queen of the sea" by her father she comes from Oberá, a city in northern Argentina.

Despite having been born and raised far inland, her relatives say that "she was born to be a submariner", citing her "will of steel" and a passion for her job.

The rest of the crew is made up of submariners of varying ages and experience.

The sub's engineer, Hernán Rodríguez, has been on the ARA San Juan for 11 years, local media reported.

How the missing submarine could be located

A Nasa research aircraft has also flown over the search area but failed to spot anything.

Despite the failure to find any trace of the sub, the father of one of the crew said relatives remained optimistic.

"In general there's a positive outlook, with the hope that there can be some way of finding them," Jorge Villareal said.

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