Navy spokesman Captain Enrique Balbi criticised the spreading of false information yesterday as the search for the missing ARA San Juan submarine entered its 14th day. Confirming that the vessel had yet to be found, Balbi said that 68 percent of the search area had been covered so far.
"It is very difficult to estimate precisely when we are going to reach 100 percent – it depends on the weather, sweeping [the area] is a slow process,” he added.
Balbi said the international search and rescue operation was continuing and provided an update on the size of the search area, which he said had been reduced from a radius of 74 to 40 kilometres, meaning it was now “approximately 20 times the size of” the City of Buenos Aires.
The Navy spokesman said there were eight ships “mapping” the seabed in the area as part of the search for the missing submarine. Balbi said the depth of the sea in the area ranges from 200 to 1,000 metres.
Fourteen days on from the start of efforts to find the ARA San Juan, there is no knowledge of the submarine’s whereabouts. The Navy’s final contact with the submarine, which has 44 crew members on board, was on November 15.
As many as 18 countries – including the United States, Russia and the United Kingdom – have been involved in the search for the TR-1700 class submarine that was commissioned in the 1980s and was refitted in 2014.
Speaking last night, Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie thanked the countries who are providing help, saying Argentina was “deeply grateful” they did not hesitate in providing assistance.
"Maybe we have never before seen a rescue exercise of this magnitude,” Faurie said at a CARI event, in comments reported by Local newspaper El Cronista.
"There's no date for the end of this international help," Navy spokesman Enrique Balbi said Tuesday. "This is a critical situation, of high anxiety and concern for the family members of the crew and everyone in the Navy who has been on this search for 13 days."
Balbi said Wednesday that the search area had been reduced by around 40 kilometres, an indication of how much of the sea must still be searched. Speaking at a press conference, he said the search area was more than 20 times bigger than the nation’s capital, Buenos Aires.
Some families of the crew have lost hope that their loved ones will be rescued following the Navy's report that an explosion occurred near the time and place where the ARA San Juan went missing on November 15.
Balbi said Tuesday that the blast could have been caused by a "concentration of hydrogen" caused by a problem reported by the captain: a short circuit when water entered the vessel's snorkel.
In their last message, the crew of a missing submarine reported an electrical short-circuit caused by seawater which had started a fire, local reports have suggested.
The submarine reported that seawater had entered the ventilation system, causing a battery on the diesel-electric vessel to short-circuit and start a fire, according to the text of the message, the A24 television channel reported.
The captain, however, later communicated by satellite phone that the problem had been contained and he would continue sailing from the extreme southern port of Ushuaia to the sub's base in the coastal city of Mar del Plata, some 230 miles (400 kilometres) southeast of Buenos Aires.
"They had to electrically isolate the battery and continue sailing underwater to Mar del Plata using another battery circuit," Balbi said.
Experts say that even if the vessel remained intact under water, the crew only had enough oxygen to last up to 10 days.
On Tuesday, the Navy announced that the arrival of a US undersea rescue module had been delayed by 24 hours.
A Norwegian ship carrying the US Navy's underwater remotely operated vehicle and its pressurised rescue module was expected to arrive at the search zone on Wednesday.
Some family members have denounced the Navy's response to the disappearance and the age and condition of the vessel. President Mauricio Macri has promised an investigation.
- TIMES WITH AFP/TÉLAM