International media attention, an expansive search involving 18 nations and even the prayers of Argentine native Pope Francis weren’t enough to save the crew of the TR-1700 model submarine that disappeared off the coast of Patagonia almost exactly one year ago.
After seven desperate distress signals sent by the submarine’s doomed crew of 44 sailors failed to lead rescuers to its resting place, the Argentine government conceded that the crew had probably perished. But the search for their remains, and the investigation into what exactly went wrong, rattled the Argentine military, eventually leading to the dismissal of the head of the country’s navy and raids on federal offices.
But just two days after Argentine President Mauricio Macri held a ceremony honoring the families of the disappeared sailors, the Argentine has revealed that the sub has been located.
According to Reuters, the vessel was founded “imploded” 907 meters deep in waters off the Valdes Peninsula in Argentine Patagonia. There were no survivors. The navy said a “positive identification” had been made by a remote-operated submersible from the American ship Ocean Infinity, which was hired for the latest search for the missing vessel.
On Thursday, on the anniversary of the disappearance, 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.”
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.
The ARA San Juan was on its way back to its base in the coastal city of Mar del Plata when the Argentine Navy lost contact. In the year since its disappearance, investigators have determined that a mechanical failure likely led to an explosion that sunk the sub. The German-made vessel had been retrofitted a year before its disappearance, a meticulous process that could create serious vulnerabilities if safety precautions aren’t taken in meticulous detail.
Argentina gave up hope of finding survivors after an intense search aided by 18 countries, but the navy has continued searching for the vessel.
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 $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 Nov. 15 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.
The discovery closes what has been a traumatic chapter in Argentina’s military history. But the investigations into who should bear responsibility are ongoing. Whether anybody is brought to justice for the errors that led to the deaths of so many sailors remains to be seen.