BUENOS AIRES – The Argentine navy announced on Thursday that it will continue with the search for its missing submarine, the ARA San Juan, but will now suspend the rescue operation because “double” the time period during which the 44 crewmembers could have survived with the oxygen still aboard the presumably sunken vessel has elapsed.
“The available (search and rescue) resources – national, international ... and private – oriented to protecting human lives found no evidence of the shipwreck in the explored areas,” navy spokesman Capt. Enrique Balbi told reporters at naval headquarters in Buenos Aires.
When asked if authorities were ruling out finding any survivors among the 44 crewmembers of the ARA San Juan, Balbi said that since the sub has not yet actually been found, he was not going to give a “categorical confirmation” that no survivors were expected, but he warned that “the time for the possibility of rescuing them has extended to double” what was predicted, given the available oxygen on board the vessel.
Thus, the Defense Ministry and the navy will now continue with the next phase of the operation, searching for the sub on the Atlantic Ocean bottom off the southern Argentine coast.
Balbi said that a total of 557,000 square nautical miles of ocean had been visually swept and 1.49 million square nautical miles had been probed by radar “without making contact with the sub or with life rafts.”
“Twenty-eight vessels (16 from the Argentine navy), nine aircraft (three Argentine) and 4,000 men (3,200 Argentine) from 18 countries have been deployed (in the operation) and, despite the magnitude of the effort, it has not been possible to locate the submarine,” he said.
Balbi said that the search zone had been restricted after information was received from international entities of a “hydroacoustic anomaly” resembling an explosion in the vicinity of the last known position of the ARA San Juan.
In keeping with the change in character of the operation, the Norwegian vessel Sophie Siem, which is carrying a US minisubmarine that can be used to extract living crewmembers from a sunken sub, is returning to an Argentine port.
Other international equipment, however, will continue to be used to try and locate the sub, which may be lying on the ocean bottom at a depth of 1,000 meters, or greater.
The last known position of the submarine on Nov. 15 was about 432 kilometers (268 miles) off the southern Argentine coast, where it went missing while en route from the navy base at Ushuaia to Mar del Plata in Buenos Aires province.