BUENOS AIRES – The search for the ARA San Juan, the Argentine navy submarine that disappeared 18 days ago, is focusing on Sunday on a region where the ocean floor is 950 meters (about 3,100 feet) deep, as complaints against the government by the family members of the vessel’s 44 crewmembers mount.
At his Sunday press briefing, navy spokesman Enrique Balbi said that Russia’s remote-controlled submersible Pantera Plus will try to descend to the ocean bottom at a spot where a “contact” – that is, a possible metallic object – has been detected.
The Russian undersea vehicle, which is being transported on board the Argentine vessel Islas Malvinas, on Saturday had descended to 477 and 700 meters at two other locations, but neither target proved to be the missing sub.
The ARA San Juan was sailing northwards some 432 kilometers (268 miles) off Argentina’s Atlantic coast when it went missing on Nov. 15 after reporting a battery short-circuit caused by water entering the vessel via the snorkel.
Some three hours after the last communication, a sound consistent with an explosion was detected 27 km from the sub’s reported position, and the huge international search has focused in that region, with six vessels still at sea continuing with that effort.
At Balbi’s daily update, the father of one of the missing sailors claimed that the navy had not provided him with any information about his son.
“You said that (the navy) informed the relatives but (I’ve received) nothing. I haven’t received a single call,” said Luis Antonio Niz, the father of one of the sub’s officers, Luis Alberto Niz.
Balbi offered an immediate apology for the apparent oversight and took Niz’s contact information, saying that the navy is not “infallible” and can make “mistakes.”
On Sunday, most of the crewmembers’ relatives left the Mar del Plata base en masse carrying Argentine flags and photos of their missing loved ones, stopping to speak with reporters and announcing that they were marching to the city’s central square to call upon Argentine President Mauricio Macri to order a resumption of the “rescue” phase of the operation, which authorities had discontinued last Thursday since calculations are that, even if the crewmembers were alive in a sunken vessel, they would have exhausted their available oxygen by then.