Buenos Aires: Hopes of finding 44 crew members on board a submarine faded after the Argentine navy abandoned search efforts for the vessel which disappeared in south Atlantic two weeks ago.
Navy spokesman Enrique Balbi said they were unable to locate the submarine ARA San Juan despite a massive search operation launched along with rescue teams from 13 nations.
The search will now focus on scouring the sea bed for the vessel. No evidence of a shipwreck was found in the areas searched, he said.
The hopes of rescuing the crew were dashed earlier when Capt Balbi said hydro-acoustic stations of the Austria-based anti-nuclear test watchdog, Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization, and US data detected signals from an “underwater impulsive event” near the location where the submarine went missing on November 15.
The explosion was recorded three hours after the submarine reported a blackout linked to short-circuit and surfaced as per the protocol to fix the problem. Following orders, the crew immediately cancelled their mission and headed for Mar del Plata naval base.
Even if an explosion did not happen in the submarine, the vessel had oxygen to last only seven days.
Family members of the crew criticized the navy’s decision to abandon the search.
“It destroyed the minimal hope that I had,” Luis Tagliapietra, father of one of the crew members Alejandro Tagliapietra, told the broadcaster TN.
The navy downplayed a report by La Nacion of irregularities in a battery purchase when the submarine was repaired between 2008 and 2014.
“I want to know the truth about what happened. I don’t believe any of the official hypotheses, because they are lying to us,” Tagliapietra said.
Navy says water entered the snorkel of the submarine causing its battery to short-circuit.
Last week, Capt Balbi rejected comments by some relatives of the submarine crew that the vessel needed repairs and it was unsafe. He said all safety checks were done two days before the submarine set sail on a training mission from Ushuaia naval base.
The crew’s relatives also alleged that the navy gave them false hopes.
Argentine President Mauricio Macri has ordered an investigation into the submarine’s disappearance.