Pressure is mounting on President Mauricio Macri and Defence Minister Oscar Aguad to address the State’s responsibility in the tragic sinking of the ARA San Juan submarine in November, 2017.
The vessel disappeared mysteriously in November 2017 on route to Argentina's naval base in Mar del Plata. Its crushed wreckage was located one year later on November 16, 2018, by the Seabed Constructor, a ship owned by US search firm Ocean Infinity, after a long, traumatic search for submarine that drew attention across the world.
Navy officials have now confirmed the submarine suffered an implosion, which caused the vessel to sink. The remains of the vessel now lay "in an area of 70 to 75 metres of debris," 920 metres below sea level, officials declared.
Macri and Aguad are due to provide written testimony about their knowledge of the circumstances surrounding the tragic incident and subsequent search and rescue operations, by Friday April 26 or Monday at the latest, a Defence Ministry sources told the Clarín newspaper this week.
Family members and relatives of the 44 missing officers hit out at the government throughout last week, expressing a shared feeling that successive Argentine governments had failed to address the alleged deteriorated condition of the ARA San Juan, with many relatives believing that led to its sinking.
Their comments come as the investigation into the disappearance unfolds in the Coleta Olivia Federal Court led by Judge Marta Yáñez.
The judge has ordered Macri and Aguad to answer a series of questions laid out in a questionnaire, co-written with some of the relatives. The officials have been asked to respond to a number of issues, including: “Were you aware that the ARA San Juan had not been in a dry dock for 45 months, when according to the standards determined by the manufacturer it should have been every 18 months?” and “Explain all the measures you took during the current investigation.”
Luis Tagliapietra, a plaintiff, father of one of the dead crew-members and himself a lawyer, this week claimed that Macri and Aguad “shared responsibility in the sinking of the submarine.”
“In the chain of command, tasks are delegated” but “guilt cannot be delegated,” he argued Monday in an interview with El Destape radio, whose parent website aligns heavily with the opposition.
President Macri “delegated tasks to the Defence Minister and these were not carried out, so the responsibility is shared” among them, the lawyer added.
Tagliapeietra, who prepared the questionnaire, said the issues addressed “related to what they [Macri and Aguad] knew about the submarine, its mission and its physical condition.”
Among the concerns, he said, is that the government is covering up a clandestine military conflict.
“In this context, everybody with responsibilities must respond”, he added.
“As in all investigations [I've been involved in], and in my role as a plaintiff, I have fought from day one for the truth. First, to try and find them [the 44 officers] alive, then to find them and now we’re trying to determine what happened,” he said.
Relatives the late 44 officers participated in a videoconference call with the court on Wednesday, during which investigators shared some of the 67,000 items of photographic evidence which Ocean Infinity produced after its discovery of the vessel’s remains.
“I cannot believe there were so many failures in the years prior [to the disappearance] and they [the state] did not take action. I realise now that my brother was scared about what would happen,” Miguel Toconás, the brother of late crew-member Mario Toconás, told the Río Negro newspaper on Monday.
“He would constantly tell Ryan, my eldest nephew: ‘You must look after your mother. When I’m not here, you have to be the man of the house’. I see his fear now. And it makes me angry and sad,” he added.
Andrea Mereles, the wife of Ricardo Gabriel Alfaro, the submarine’s chef, also spoke to Río Negro, describing how her husband urged her to “never forgive” the Navy if “one day I’m no longer here,” prior to his death
“I forgot to say that I love you a lot, and I’m sorry if I ever hurt you. I will see you in the first few days of December. And if I don’t come back, destroy them [the Navy]. If one day I’m no longer here, you know, never forgive them,” Mereles recalled Alfaro as saying, before he departed on what came to be his final voyage.
“He would tell me: ‘The ARA is getting worse. I don’t know how they want to navigate in this condition.’ [He told me] everything would happening: power outages, small fires, failures in the valves…,” Mereles added.
Alfaro had recently been authorised a transfer to Misiones province to work at the Submarine Command Force (COFS). His deployment on the ARA San Juan was supposed to be his last trip, she explained.
Mereles will hand over to the court photographic and video evidence of the ARA San Juan’s alleged poor condition, which her husband documented, she explained.