The search for an Argentine Navy submarine lost with some 44 souls on board has reached a “critical phase,” a naval spokesman told Reuters, as the length of the seven-day search indicates the vessel is likely not on the surface and could be reaching the limits of its air supply.
Per Reuters, a search team involving 4,000 personnel from various nations and militaries has been frantically searching for the vessel. Planes searching for the ARA San Juan have now covered some 190,000 square miles (500,000 square kilometers) of ocean off the Argentine coast, while around 30 ships have scoured a smaller area. Authorities now consider it likely that the submarine is on the seabed after encountering some form of malfunction and is unable to rise to the surface as it should have under normal emergency protocol. Even if the ship is still intact, any crew on board would be in mortal danger if breathable atmosphere runs out.
“If the captain stayed at the bottom because he thought it was more prudent to stay at the bottom, it’s one thing,” naval investigator Fernando Morales told Reuters. “But at this point we have to think that if he’s at the bottom, it’s because he could not emerge.”
No one has made contact with the ship since November 15th, when it was traveling through the San Jorge Gulf off Patagonia while traveling north between two bases. The search was initially made difficult by rough weather, but even as the choppy water has died down, authorities have made little progress nailing down the vessel’s exact position, Reuters added.
As Foreign Policy noted, numerous questions about what the sub’s mission was and precisely where it should have been have only grown in urgency, with the Argentine government apparently unprepared to deal with the relatively rare situation. However, if the ship has managed to remain on the surface or is “snorkeling” below with access to fresh air, the magazine noted Argentine authorities say it was equipped 90 days of food and water on board.