BUENOS AIRES – The Argentine navy said on Monday that it has contacted five companies and asked them to submit budgets so that after Russia withdraws its current support it can select one or more of them to continue searching for the missing ARA San Juan submarine, which disappeared on Nov. 15 with 44 crewmembers.
“Alternatives are being evaluated. At present, five companies have been contacted, five budgets have been evaluated and we’re not forgetting that they have their own lists of requirements, depending on whether they are private or state-run (firms),” navy spokesman Capt. Enrico Balbi told reporters.
Balbi, who did not specify whether the firms are Argentine or foreign or whether the navy will hire one or several of them simultaneously, said that foreign help “is going to be finite,” although he denied that Russia had informed Argentine authorities about when it will terminate its help in the sub search.
“In any case, we’re aware that (other countries providing) all the international cooperation ... at some point, with all their international commitments, have been ending their ... cooperation,” he said.
Two months after the San Juan disappeared while en route from Argentina’s southern naval base at Ushuaia to Mar del Plata, near Buenos Aires, Russia is the only foreign country still providing material help with its oceanographic vessel Yantar and the remote undersea vehicle Panther Plus.
Argentina has deployed the corvette Spiro in the search area, and on Wednesday it will add the tug Islas Malvinas to the search. Moreover, in the coming days a third vessel will arrive in the search area to provide fuel, food and other supplies to the search vessels, Balbi said.
The search zone is located some 430 kilometers (267 miles) off the southern Argentine coast and is focused on the area where an explosion was detected a few hours after contact was lost with the sub.
Shortly before that, the sub commander had reported to shore that a fire had broken out in a battery compartment after water got in through a ventilation duct, a problem that the navy said was resolved, allowing the vessel to continue on its route to Mar del Plata.
Balbi said that during the 60 days of searching, approximately 4,000 people of different nationalities, 25 vessels from seven countries and 14 aircraft have been involved in the operation, but none of the 54 “contacts” detected on the ocean bottom within the search area has proven to be the San Juan.
“They have been sunken boats not noted on nautical maps, as well as rocky or polymetallic formations,” he said.
The navy acknowledged that it still has no clear evidence as to what happened to the San Juan, but there are two hypotheses: either an internal explosion sent the boat to the bottom or it was crushed by the water pressure when it dropped below 338 meters (about 1,110 feet), as suggested by a US analyst a month ago.