The search for a missing submarine is no longer a rescue mission as there is no hope of finding any of the crew alive, the Argentine Navy has said.
Captain Enrique Babi said on Thursday that he was ending rescue efforts for the 44 missing crew of ARA San Juan more than two weeks after it vanished.
Search efforts will continue, he said, but are now solely focused on recovering the wreck of the vessel from somewhere on the sea bed.
Captain Enrique Babi, head of the search operation for the ARA San Juan, said on Thursday that the navy will be ending its rescue mission more than two weeks after the sub vanished
The Navy will continue searching for the wreckage of the vessel, Babi said, but admitted there are now no hopes of finding the 44 crew alive
Family members of the missing crew members collapsed in grief as Babi broke the news at the naval base in Mar del Plata, where the sub was travelling before it vanished
He said the rescue efforts had already been ‘extended for more than twice what is estimated for a rescue.’
‘We’ve had 28 ships, nine aircraft, 4,000 people involved, 18 countries supporting,’ he added.
‘Despite the magnitude of these efforts, we’ve been unable to find the submarine.’
Some relatives of the crew broke into tears after they received the news.
‘I don’t understand this arbitrary and unjustified decision,’ Luis Tagliapietra, the father of 27-year-old crew member Alejandro Tagliapietra, told local TV.
‘It’s unusually cruel. Every day, it’s a new blow. I’m destroyed.’
Among the missing, now presumed dead, is 35-year-old Eliana Maria Krawczyk, Argentina’s first female submariner.
The San Juan last made contact with commanders on November 15 to report that water had entered the vessel through its snorkel and caused a battery fault.
Some relatives reacted with shock and fury at the news the Navy was abandoning its efforts, while others had been saying for days they did not expect their loved ones to come home
Relatives of the missing walk past a fence at the Mar del Palta base where a chain link fence has been turned into a makeshift memorial for the missing
Emotions ran high as Babi announced his decision, saying the search had already been extended to twice the length of a typical rescue mission
It was advised to divert to Mar del Plata to have the problem fixed, and the captain later commuincated via satellite phone that the problem had been contained.
That was the last communication received from the submarine before a loud noise, possibly and implosion, was detected from around the area where it vanished.
Some family members have denounced the navy’s response to the sub’s disappearance as well as the age and condition of the vessel. President Mauricio Macri has promised a full investigation.
The San Juan, a German-built diesel-electric TR-1700 class submarine, was commissioned in the 1980s and was most recently refitted in 2014.
During the $12 million retrofitting, the vessel was cut in half and had its engines and batteries replaced.
A relative of one of the members of crew on board the San Juan is pictured distraught at the Mar del Plata base
A woman sits with an Argentinian flag draped over her shoulder in front of a sign that reads ‘Have strength Argentina that the 44 will come back in the company of the angels’
Tributes paid to those feared dead in the disappearance of the San Juan submarine
Experts say 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.
At the sub’s home naval base in Mar del Plata, relatives were hit hard by Thursday’s announcement. Some hugged and fell on their knees sobbing near a fence crowded with blue-and-white Argentine flags, rosary beads and messages of support.
Others took to social media to pay homage to their loved ones.
‘I stay with this image,’ Jesica Gopar, said in a tweet that included a photo of her husband, submarine officer Fernando Santilli, smiling and holding their young son in his arms.
‘He’s the most beautiful being that God could have put on my path 13 years ago,’ she wrote. ‘He’s a hero who must be recognized along with his 43 other crew members. I hope you didn’t suffer my love.’