Lost at Sea: Argentine Submarine

Kai Huang - 1A Computer
Posted on: November 26, 2017

On 15 November 2017, the Argentine submarine ARA San Juan sent its final transmission. It was heading back to its home port Mar del Plata from Ushuaia, where it took part in a naval exercise. On 17 November, it was announced that contact had been lost, and search and rescue operations had commenced.

 The ARA San Juan is one of the Argentine navy’s 4 TR-1700 class diesel-electric patrol submarines. Entering service in 1985, it recently underwent a mid-life refurbishment between 2008 and 2013. The ship’s crew consists of 44 sailors, one of which is Argentina’s first female submarine officer, Eliana María Krawczyk.

When the initial search effort began, the Argentine Armed Forces set up an operations centre at the Mar del Plata naval base, and brought in mental health professionals to assist the families of the sailors. The destroyer Sarandi and corvettes Rosales and Drummond were sent out to sea, supported by S-2E aircraft. The United States immediately dispatched a NASA P-3 Orion aircraft to aid in the search as well.

The Ministry of Defense reported on the 18th of November that there had been attempts at communication from a satellite phone. This was originally believed to be from the vessel, indicating an event that caused the ship to lose power. However, it has been determined that these calls were not from the vessel. Searches continued through to the 19th, at which point severe weather in the area made operations difficult.

As the submarine only could sustain 7-10 days worth of oxygen while travelling underwater, the Argentine Navy announced on the 20th of November that the “critical phase” of the rescue operation was approaching. Initial hopes that the the issue was simply a failure of communications system were lost at this point, as the submarine would’ve arrived at Mar del Plata on the 19th or the 20th.

On the 21st of November, leads were found by a U.S. Navy patrol plane, which claimed to have detected a metallic object at a depth of 70m, and the British patrol ship HMS Protector, which claimed to have seen 3 flares. Both leads were investigated and unfortunately proven false.

The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) contacted the Argentine Navy on the 23rd of November reporting a seismic anomaly. Listening posts on Ascension Island and the Crozet Islands recorded an event consistent with an explosion on the day the submarine lost communications. While the Argentine Navy refuses to speculate on the fate of the submarine, distraught family members claim they have already received phone calls from Navy officials, with the news that the entire crew perished in an explosion between 180m and 900m below the surface.

At this point, the search continues, with over 27 ships and 30 aircraft from 13 countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom (with territory in the nearby Falklands), Brazil, Chile, and even Russia. All in all, as of the 24th of November, more than 4000 personnel are scouring 500,000 square kilometers of ocean in the South Atlantic.