BUENOS AIRES – Two weeks after an Argentine navy submarine with 44 crewmembers on board disappeared, no sign of the vessel has turned up but 68 percent of the Atlantic Ocean zone where it is thought to be has been searched and in the coming hours weather conditions are forecast to improve, thus favoring the continued operation.
“We are continuing the search for the submarine with every effort. We’re using all the high technology equipment on eight vessels that are in the zone sweeping the ocean bottom, mapping its profile,” navy Capt. Enrique Balbi told reporters in Buenos Aires.
The military spokesman acknowledged that “it’s very difficult to estimate” when 100 percent of the search zone will have been scoured for the ARA San Juan since that will depend on the sea and weather conditions, which since the start of the search have not been optimum on many days.
Currently, 19 countries – including the US, Russia, Britain, Brazil and Spain, working with 4,040 personnel, 3,200 of them from the Argentine navy – are participating in the operation with 28 vessels, 16 of them Argentine, and nine aircraft, of which three are Argentine.
“They have come from all over the world to say: We want to help the Argentines. We want to give them our full support, the best technology to see if together we can find the submarine,” President Mauricio Macri said Wednesday, adding that the situation shows that the world “is giving (the country) a chance” to find the missing vessel and its crew.
During a speech at a school in the northern province of Corrientes, the president, remarked that thanks to his administration – and he has been in office for two years – there had been a change that has created “respect, admiration, (and) support (for Argentina) all over the world.”
The search zone – located some 430 kilometers (about 270 miles) off Argentina’s southern coast and limited to the area where an explosion was detected shortly after the sub vanished – covers some 40,000 square km (about 15,400 square miles), but the prime search area is only about a tenth of that.
Balbi said that on Wednesday the weather is good and on Thursday it is predicted to be “better,” with “waves just two meters (6.5 feet) high,” providing “very good” conditions for continuing the ocean floor radar sweep down to depths of between 200 and 1,000 meters.
The Norwegian vessel Sophie Siem is in the area carrying a US rescue mini-submarine that could be used to extract living crewmembers from a damaged and sunken sub.
In addition, on Wednesday night the Argentine naval vessel ARA Islas Malvinas will arrive at the port of Comodoro Rivadavia to take on board a Russian remote submersible vessel that can operate down to a depth of 1,000 meters.
Furthermore, the Russian scientific exploration ship Yantar with its high-tech inspection cameras and other equipment that can penetrate to a depth of 6,000 meters is expected to arrive in the area on Dec. 5.
Balbi, in his appearance before reporters on Wednesday, went on to criticize assorted erroneous or fake news reports saying, among other things, that the ARA San Juan had been located.
Most of the crew’s close family members are on hand in the city of Mar del Plata, which houses the navy base the sub was heading for from the far southern city of Ushuaia when contact with it was lost.
The navy on Wednesday reiterated that the last contact with the sub occurred at 7:30 am on Nov. 15 after the ARA San Juan’s captain reported that water had gotten into the vessel through the snorkel and caused a smoky short circuit in the batteries.