Depths of despair

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 June, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 June, 2003, 12:00am

AT A GLANCE, the search appears to be just another deep sea mission driven by the human obsession with huge vessels, such as with the doomed Titanic.

The Argentine warship ARA General Belgrano lies at a depth of 4,200 metres on the sea bed of the South Atlantic ocean. It once had the reputation of being 'the luckiest ship in the navy' for its uncanny ability to escape every battle pretty much unscathed.

However, shortly into watching The Sinking of the Belgrano - National Geographic Channel's highlight for June - I realised that the programme was about more than just a hunt for the wreck of a legendary vessel.

The Belgrano met a tragic end. Argentina had intended to turn the 44-year-old American-made cruiser into a floating museum, but the Falklands war turned that plan on its head.

On May 2, 1982, hundreds died as the 'lucky ship' was torpedoed and sunk by the British submarine Conqueror.

There were 1,093 sailors on board, and the surviving crew members, shell-shocked, had to fight for their lives in the icy waters.

The documentary not only relives the tension similar to that in the Hollywood movie, The Hunt for Red October, but also people's distorted images of life and of the horrors of a war 'that most people hoped was avoidable but was then being fought in earnest'.

The clips are meticulously arranged. Sinking starts with selected quotes from officers from both sides who served in the conflict.

'I actually turned around to the captain and said, 'Come on, boss, my tubes are loaded. We can sink the lot in a one-and-out',' said a British sailor who had been on board the Conqueror.

Captain Hector Bonzo, the last commander of the Belgrano, also gave his account of events: 'The danger comes when there is silence, because silence is death.'

However, still floating in my mind many nights after watching the programme are images of the rolling greens and wild life of the Falkland Islands, or the Islas Malvinas, as they are known in Argentina.

The war, as well as the attack on the Belgrano, was controversial. But to me, what was ludicrous was the people's failure to appreciate the beauty of nature and human life. Driven by an overwhelming sense of patriotism, the soldiers were blinded by their determination to out-manoeuvre the enemy.

Although the programme sheds light on the war, it is more appropriate to take it as a warning. Let's rethink the role of mankind in the world.