A little over a year after losing contact with the submarine ARA San Juan, Argentina’s navy said the wreckage of the sub had been found at the bottom of the southern Atlantic Ocean, where it sank with all 44 of its crew members.
The navy said early Saturday that a “positive identification” had been made by a remote-operated submersible deployed by Ocean Infinity, a US firm commissioned by the Argentine government that began searching on September 7.
On Sunday, Argentina’s navy released the first images of the sub on the seafloor under 900 metres of water nearly 650km east of the city of Comodoro Rivadavia in Argentina’s Patagonia region.
One of the first images posted by the Argentina navy showed the forward section of the sub’s hull, made with special 33mm steel, with torpedo tubes visible. The 24-metre-long and 7-metre-wide section was found in a single piece, though the water pressure appeared to have deformed and compressed it.
“It is the habitable sector where the batteries and all the systems and equipment that the submarine has are found,” the navy said.
Before the sub’s last contact on November 15, 2017, the captain reported that water had entered through a snorkel and caused one of the batteries to short circuit, though he said it had been contained.
The aft section of the sub, including its propeller, was also spotted by Ocean Infinity’s submersible.
As was the mast, or sail, of the sub.
‘A series of investigations to find the whole truth’
The sub was returning to its base at Mar de Plata on Argentina’s northeast coast when contact was lost. The German-built sub was commissioned in the mid-1980s and underwent a retrofit between 2008 and 2014.
There still is no information about the 44 crew members who were aboard the sub when it sank. Argentine President Mauricio Macri, who decreed three days of morning, said there would be “a series of investigations to find the whole truth.”
Argentine officials have said the sub could have imploded hours after its final contact, when the pressure in the water overcame the hull’s ability to resist.
The wreckage of the sub appeared to be scattered over a 80-metre-by-100-metre area – a sign it “could have imploded very close to the bottom,” Argentine navy spokesman Enrique Balbi said.
Argentina lacks ‘modern technology’ to recover the sub.
The sub was found near where the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty Organisation, an international monitoring agency,said on November 15, 2017, that two of its hydroacoustic stations “detected an unusual signal” near the sub’s last known position.
Argentina’s navy said the signal, which sounded like an explosion, could have been caused by a “concentration of hydrogen” triggered by the battery problem reported by the captain.
On Saturday, hours after the discovery was confirmed, Defence Minister Oscar Aguad said Argentina lacks “modern technology” capable of “verifying the seabed” in order to recover the ARA San Juan.
‘If they sent him off, I want them to bring him back to me.’
Visibility in the water where the sub was found is very low, due to salinity and turbulence.
The depth, distance from the coast, and nature of the seabed would also make any recovery effort logistically challenging and expensive, likely requiring Argentina to commission another navy or private firm to carry out that work –complicating the Macri government’s economic austerity measures.
The navy’s statement that it was unable to recover the sub angered families of the crew, who demanded the government recover those lost.
“We do know they can get it out because Ocean Infinity told us they can, that they have equipment,” Luis Antonio Niz, father of crew member Luis Niz, told the Associated Press. “If they sent him off, I want them to bring him back to me.”