Sound heard in Argentine sub search was likely ‘explosion’
MAR DEL PLATA – The Associated Press
An apparent explosion occurred near the time and place an Argentine submarine went missing, the country’s navy reported on Nov. 23, prompting relatives of the vessel’s 44 crew members to burst into tears and some to say they had lost hope of a rescue.
Navy spokesman Enrique Balbi said the search will continue until there is full certainty about the fate of the ARA San Juan, despite the evidence of an explosion and with more than a week having passed since the submarine disappeared. It was originally scheduled to arrive Monday at Argentina’s Mar del Plata Navy Base.
The U.S. Navy and an international nuclear test-ban monitoring organization said a “hydro-acoustic anomaly” was produced just hours after the navy lost contact with the sub on Nov. 15. It was near the submarine’s last known location.
“According to this report, there was an explosion,” Balbi told reporters. “We don’t know what caused an explosion of these characteristics at this site on this date.”
The navy spokesman described the “anomaly” as “singular, short, violent and non-nuclear.”
Relatives of the crew who had gathered at the Mar del Plata base to receive psychological counseling broke into tears and hugged each other after they received the news. Some fell on their knees or clung to a fence crowded with blue-and-white Argentine flags, rosary beads and messages of support. Most declined to speak, while a few others lashed out in anger at the navy’s response.
“They sent a piece of crap to sail,” said Itati Leguizamon, wife of submarine crew member German Suarez. “They inaugurated a submarine with a coat of paint and a flag in 2014, but without any equipment inside. The navy is to blame for its 15 years of abandonment.”
Balbi defended the Argentine Navy, saying that “with respect to the maintenance and state of our naval and air units, no unit ever leaves port or takes off if it isn’t in operating conditions to navigate or fly with total security.”
The German-built diesel-electric TR-1700 class submarine was commissioned in 1985 and was most recently refitted in 2014.
During the $12 million retrofitting, the vessel was cut in half and had its engines and batteries replaced. Experts say that refits can be difficult because they involve integrating systems produced by different manufacturers and even the smallest mistake during the cutting phase of the operation can put the safety of the ship and the crew at risk.