Citing experts, Defence Minister Oscar Aguad said Friday that the sinking of the ARA San Juan submarine in November 2017 was caused by a "lack of training" and "capabilities."
"It is the conclusion reached by the experts, by underwater experts, who speak of the lack of training and the lack of renewal of capabilities, among others, as the most likely causes of the collapse of ARA San Juan," Aguad said in conversation with the La Compass 24 radio station.
Asked if he was referring to a lack of training among those who were inside the submarine, the minister replied: "Exactly and of those who were outside, too."
All 44 crew-members were killed in November 2017, when the ARA San Juan submarine was lost at sea after tragically imploding. A hunt for the vessel took months, with relatives left in limbo waiting to discover the fate of their loved ones.
Aguad was immediately criticised by family members – many of whom are still pushing for the government to lift the vessel up from its final resting place on the sea bed – for the remarks, with one showing he had showed a "lack of sensitivity and respect."
The father of one of the deceased crew members, Luis Tagliapietra, said: "The minister's mask fell off. It is a lack of respect and a show of insensibility for all the family members," he told channel A24.
"[Aguad] told us in private [about the presumed responsibility of the submariners], it was the minister's strategy from the first day. The relatives knew what the minister was aiming at from the first day," added Tagliapietra, the father of submariner Alejandro Tagliapietra, who has pushed the judge in charge of the investigation, Marta Yañez, to be replaced.
Isabel Vilca, the sister of the deceased crew member Alejandro Polo, echoed the criticism, telling the C5N channel: "It hurts what the minister said."
"Before the bicameral commission, he declared that they were the best submariners," she added. "He said they were trained. So what is the Navy for, if it does not prepare its people?"
Not to blame
Aware of the controversy, Aguad later sought to clarify his remarks at a ceremony marking Day of the Navy ("Día de la Armada Argentina"), saying the crew were not to blame for the tragedy.
"They have no responsibility, I did not speak about the responsibility of the submariners – on the contrary, the responsibility has to be determined by the Judiciary, not by us," he told Cadena 3.
Speaking during a ceremony at the Puerto Belgrano Naval Base, Aguard said that a technical commission was investigating the tragedy and studying the submarine's history dating back to 1995.
Family members have long sought to raise questions about the state of the submarine, with some saying members of the crew had expressed concern over the vessel.
In the interview, Aguad said that the causes of the tragedy "had less to do with the deterioration of the submarine than with a series of events and the lack of intergenerational transmission of knowledge."
Made in Germany in 1983 and incorporated into the Navy in 1985, the ARA San Juan was one of three submarines in Argentina. Its remains were eventually located on November 2018 – almost a year to the day of its disappearance – by the Seabed Constructor, a vessel from US company Ocean Infinity, in the South Atlantic, 500km off the coast of Argentina.
It is estimated that the implosion occurred two hours after contact from the submarine was registered, on November 15, 2017.