Argentina navy believes missing submarine is on surface

An extensive search and rescue operation is underway for the ARA San Juan – carrying 44 crew – last heard from on Wednesday

A search and rescue operation was continuing on Saturday, November 18 for an Argentine Navy submarine missing since Wednesday.

Argentina’s Navy confirmed on Friday it lost contact with the ARA San Juan submarine carrying 44 crew members off the country’s southeastern coast. The vessel left the Ushuaia naval base on Argentina’s southern tip on Monday to travel to Mar del Plata, about 400km (250 miles) southeast of Buenos Aires.

Four planes – including a NASA P3 Orion that was in Ushuaia – two corvettes, a destroyer and several helicopters are taking part in the search and rescue operation, La Nacion reported. The foreign ministry said that the governments of Chile, the United States, the United Kingdom offered to aid in the search and Brazil, Peru, Uruguay and South Africa have also offered to help.

P-8A Poseidon flies over USS Zumwalt
A P-8A Poseidon reconnaissance aircraft flies over USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000) multi-mission guided-missile destroyer as the ship travels to its new home port of San Diego, California, October 17, 2016. Image: US Navy/Erik Hildebrandt

UPDATE The U.S. military’s Southern Command directed the U.S. Navy to deploy a P-8A Poseidon multi-mission maritime aircraft from El Salvador to Bahia Blanca, Argentina, on Saturday to support the ongoing search, a Navy press release said. The P-8A Poseidon is the Navy’s newest maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft and carries state-of-the-art sensors and communications equipment. The aircraft can support a wide range of missions including sub-surface search-and-rescue operations.

The last known location of the vessel was 432km offshore from Golfo San Jorge, where winds of 90km per hour were blowing yesterday.

Argentina Submarine ARA San Juan
ARA San Juan, a German-built diesel-electric submarine, near Buenos Aires, Argentina in 2013. Image: AP/Armada Argentina

By mid-afternoon on Friday, around 15 percent of the designated search area had been covered by aircraft, Navy spokesperson Enrique Balbi said, adding that the Navy believes the submarine “has to be on the surface,” so “there should not be an oxygen problem”.

Admiral Gabriel Gonzalez, commander of the Atlantic Naval Area and head of the Mar del Plata Naval Base, said on Friday that the vessel had sufficient food and oxygen. “We have a loss of communications; we are not talking of an emergency,” he told AP.

Balbi said the ARA San Juan could have travelled its entire route submerged in the water, but that the submarine would surface in the event of a breakdown or loss of communication, adding that the vessel did not activate emergency radio beacons.

“In those emergency cases, the beacon is ejected to the surface and deploys an antenna, which emits the updated position of the submarine, on a frequency that is detected by the satellites, but that did not happen,” Balbi said on Friday.

“The last position [recorded] 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,” Balbi said. “What we interpret is that there must have been a serious problem with the communications or with the electrical supply, cables, antennae or other equipment.”

Balbi said the vessel was carrying enough food “for at least 15 days.”

Argentina Submarine ARA San Juan
ARA San Juan, a German-built diesel-electric vessel, docked in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 2014. Image: AP/Armada Argentina

The ARA San Juan (S-42) is a 66-metre TR-1700 diesel-electric submarine built in Germany and has been in service with the Argentine Navy since 1986.

The vessel completed a mid-life modernization in 2014 in order to extend its service life by up to 30 years. During this process, the hull was cut in half to allow engineers’ access, La Nacion reported.

Search underway for Argentine submarine missing for two days

With reporting from AP

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