Haunting photos show Argentine submarine wreck in its Atlantic grave 800 metres deep

  • The navy lost contact with the submarine on November 15, 2017
  • Experts say raising it would be an enormous undertaking costing a billion dollars or more
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 November, 2018, 3:59pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 November, 2018, 4:08pm

Hours after announcing the discovery of an Argentine submarine lost deep in the Atlantic a year ago with 44 crew members aboard, the government said that it is unable to recover the vessel, drawing anger from missing sailors’ relatives who demanded that it be raised.

Defence Minister Oscar Aguad said that the country lacks “modern technology” capable of “verifying the seabed” to extract the ARA San Juan, which was found 907 metres (2,975 feet) deep in waters off the Valdes Peninsula in Argentine Patagonia, roughly 600km (373 miles) from the port city of Comodoro Rivadavia.

Earlier in the morning, the navy said a “positive identification” had been made by a remote-operated submersible from the American company Ocean Infinity.

Argentina finds lost submarine in deep Atlantic, one year after it disappeared

Ocean Infinity was also assigned the task of hunting for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, which vanished without trace in March 2014 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

The company, commissioned by the Argentine government, began searching for the missing vessel September 7.

It remained unclear what the next steps could be.

Ocean Infinity CEO Oliver Plunkett said authorities would have to determine how to advance.

“We would be pleased to assist with a recovery operation but at the moment are focused on completing imaging of the debris field,” he said.

Navy commander Jose Luis Villan urged “prudence” saying that a federal judge was overseeing the investigation and would be the one to decide whether it was possible to recover a part or the entirety of the ship.

Without adequate technological capabilities, however, Argentina would likely need to seek help from foreign countries or pay Ocean Infinity or another company, potentially complicating its recent commitment to austerity.

Experts say raising the ARA San Juan submarine would be an enormous undertaking costing a billion dollars or more.

Relatives of crew members were determined to fight for it to be quickly surfaced.

Isabel Vilca, the half sister of crewman Daniel Alejandro Polo, said that the discovery was just the beginning.

She said families need to recover the remains of their loved ones to know what happened and help prevent similar tragedies.

“We do know they can get it out because Ocean Infinity told us they can, that they have equipment,” said Luis Antonio Niz, father of crew member Luis Niz.

“If they sent him off, I want them to bring him back to me.”

The sub’s discovery was announced just two days after families of the missing sailors held a one-year commemoration for its disappearance on November 15, 2017.

The San Juan was returning to its base in the coastal city of Mar del Plata when contact was lost.

On the anniversary Thursday, Argentina President Mauricio Macri said the families of the submariners should not feel alone and delivered an “absolute and non-negotiable commitment” to find “the truth”.

On Saturday, Aguad said that the vessel was found to be in an area that investigators had deemed “most likely”.

Officials showed images of the submarine, which was located on a seabed with its hull totally deformed.

Parts of its propellers were buried and debris was scattered up to 70 metres away.

The German-built diesel-electric TR-1700 class submarine was commissioned in the mid-1980s and was most recently refitted between 2008 and 2014.

During the US$12 million retrofitting, the vessel was cut in half and had its engines and batteries replaced.

Experts said refits can be difficult because they involve integrating systems produced by different manufacturers, and even the tiniest mistake during the cutting phase can put the safety of the ship and crew at risk.

The navy said previously the captain reported on November 15, 2017, that water entered the snorkel and caused one of the sub’s batteries to short-circuit. The captain later communicated that it had been contained.

Some hours later, an explosion was detected near the time and place where the San Juan was last heard from.

The navy said the blast could have been caused by a “concentration of hydrogen” triggered by the battery problem reported by the captain.

Macri promised a full investigation after the submarine was lost. Federal police raided naval bases and other buildings last January as part of the probe, soon after the government dismissed the head of the navy.

Argentina gave up hope of finding survivors after an intense search aided by 18 countries, but a few navy units have continued providing logistical support to Ocean Infinity.

Argentina has spent more than US$25 million in its search operation.

Ocean Infinity was set to receive a US$7.5 million reward for finding the missing sub.