Argentina's Navy said that the search for the missing ARA San Juan submarine that has now been lost for 15 days was entering a new stage, formally announcing that the hunt for survivors was over.
Navy spokesman Captain Enrique Balbi said the search for the vessel will continue, but said the "rescue" part of the mission for 44 crew members on board has ended.
Balbi said Thursday that the rescue mission "extended for more than twice what is estimated for a rescue."
He added that "no evidence of a shipwreck has been found in the explored areas."
The Navy says an explosion occurred near the time and place where the ARA San Juan sub went missing on November 15.
Hopes for survivors had already dimmed because experts say the crew only had enough oxygen to last up to 10 days if the sub remained intact under the sea.
More than a dozen countries are still searching for the submarine which went missing.
Some relatives of the crew broke into tears after they received the news.
"I don't understand this arbitrary and unjustified decision," Luis Tagliapietra, the father of 27-year-old crew member Alejandro Tagliapietra, told local TV. "It's unusually cruel. Every day, it's a new blow. I'm destroyed."
The Navy has said the vessel's captain reported that water entered the snorkel and caused one of the submarine's batteries to short circuit. The captain later communicated by satellite phone that the problem had been contained, the Navy says.
Some hours later, an explosion was detected near the time and place where the San Juan was last heard from. A navy spokesman said this week that the blast could have been triggered by a "concentration of hydrogen" caused by the battery problem reported by the captain.
The San Juan, a German-built diesel-electric TR-1700 class submarine, was commissioned in the 1980s and was most recently refitted in 2014.
Some family members have also denounced the age and condition of the vessel. President Mauricio Macri has promised a full investigation.
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