Relatives of the 44 crew-members of the ARA San Juan submarine, who were lost at sea in November 2017, announced this morning that the company leading the search for the missing vessel had suspended operations until February.
In a brief statement released at 11am this Friday morning, signed by the "Families of the crew of ARA San Juan," the relatives said they had been informed by the "company's management" that the search has been halted for now.
"We were informed that the company's management determined yesterday to suspend the search until February. According to the statement, it is useless to continue expanding [search] areas, so they will conduct a detailed study on land of all the data collected to then determine how they continue and for how long," read the statement, which also provided technical details from the search.
Family members expressed surprise over the news, saying they "did not expect" the firm in charge of the search, Ocean Infinity, to end the hunt.
"We just found out about this. We did not expect the company to retire, " said Isabel Polo, a sister of one of the missing crew-members, to the C5N news channel.
Ocean Infinity – which previously took part in efforts to find a missing Malaysia Airlines plane that disappeared back in 2014 – deployed the Norwegian vessel Seabed Constructor in its search for Argentina's missing submarine.
The firm and the government said the hunt would last between 60 and 120 day, with both sides expressing optimism over the possibility of discovering at least part of the vessel, which is believed to have suffered an explosion. Ocean Infinity would receive a US$7.5-million reward if it found the vessel, according to the contract it signed with Argentina.
However, despite the initial reporting of some hopeful signs – with the firm at one point highlighting the discovery of objects that had a "strong probability" of being related to the San Juan – little positive news has emerged.
According to the statement from the families, the Seabed Constructor would arrive at the port of Punta Arenas on Thursday, November 1. Once there, the relatives and Argentine troops onboard hat were part of the search activities will depart the boat and there will be a change of crew.
The San Juan, a German-built TR-1700 class submarine, vanished on November 15, 2017, as it was sailing from the southernmost port of Ushuaia to Mar del Plata after a patrol.
The Navy says that the captain reported that water entered the snorkel and caused one of the submarine’s batteries to short-circuit. The captain later communicated that it had been contained.
Some hours later, an explosion was detected near the time and place where the sub was last heard from. The navy says the blast could have been caused by a “concentration of hydrogen” triggered by the battery problem reported by the captain.