The Hunt for A.R.A. San Juan Continues
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The Hunt for A.R.A. San Juan Continues

By IndraStra Global News Team

Image Attribute: On Nov. 19, the Argentine Navy released details about the rescue efforts and search area / Source: Armada de la República Argentina

Image Attribute: On Nov. 19, the Argentine Navy released details about the rescue efforts and search area / Source: Armada de la República Argentina (A.R.A.)

Though the search and rescue operation for a missing Argentine submarine has been helped by calmer seas, the fears are continuing to grow over the fate of a missing Argentine submarine and its 44-member crew. Till now, there were no new clues about its location and worries multiplied because the vessel may be running out of the breathable air.

A.R.A. San Juan (S-42) is a TR-1700-class diesel-electric submarine in active service with the Argentine Navy as part of the Argentine Submarine Force. The submarine was constructed in erstwhile West Germany by Thyssen Nordseewerke and entered into the service on November 19, 1985. It has a single-hull design, with a lightweight bow and stern and a watertight superstructure in the central part. Its sister vessel, A.R.A. Santa Cruz is the only other one of its type, though the program originally sought to produce a larger number of submarines. San Juan underwent a mid-life upgrade from 2008 to 2013. The upgrade cost around 100 million pesos ($12.4 million) and comprised more than 500,000 work hours during which the submarine was cut in half and had its four MTU engines and batteries replaced. The projects were carried out at the Argentine Industrial Naval Complex's (CINAR) Tandanor and Storni shipyards.

Image Attribute: A.R.A. San Juan at Tandanor shipyard / Source: Wikipedia

Image Attribute: A.R.A. San Juan at Tandanor shipyard / Source: Wikipedia

The San Juan was last heard from last Wednesday (November 15) as it journeyed from the extreme southern port of Ushuaia to the coastal city of Mar del Plata. Overnight the navy confirmed the submarine had reported an electrical problem and was headed back to base just before it disappeared 300 miles (432 kilometers) off the coast.

While the ARA San Juan carried enough food, oxygen, and fuel for the crew to survive about 90 days on the sea's surface, it had only enough oxygen to last seven days if submerged. "The most critical situation would be that we are in the sixth day of oxygen," the  Armada de la República Argentina's spokesman, Captain Enrique Balbi, said at a news conference

More than a dozen international vessels and aircrafts from Argentina, the United States, Britain, Chile, and Brazil have joined in a maritime search that has become a race against the clock, but the South Atlantic storms have complicated the rescue efforts. Some maritime surveillance planes like two Boeing P-8A Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft from Maritime Patrol Squadron 45 (VP-45), “The Pelicans” carry equipment that can detect the magnetic signature of a submarine's hull. The two Poseidons flew from a deployment at El Salvador’s Comalapa Air Base to Bahia Blanca, Argentina to support the search and rescue effort.

Also, U.S.A.F. C-17 and C-5 cargo planes hauled two Navy rescue chambers and a pair of underwater surveillance drones to the region. The additional search equipment includes one Bluefin 12D (Deep) Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (UUV) and three Iver 580 UUVs. These remotely-operated mini-subs are operated by the U.S. Navy’s recently-established Unmanned Undersea Vehicle Squadron 1, based in Keyport, Washington. Also, there are tens of fishing vessels assisting in the search.

During the last few days there have been several false alarms: Seven failed satellite calls made to naval bases on Saturday turned out to come from another phone, Noise (resembling bangs on the sub’s wall in Morse code) picked up by a sonar was found not to have come from the missing vessel and white flares reported on Tuesday (November 22), were most probably not fired by the missing submarine. “The sounds could be biological. We have discarded the possibility that it was a clanging of morse code against the hull of the submarine,” Captain Enrique Balbi told reporters in Buenos Aires.

Ironically, the very same characteristics that make the submarine San Juan so effective also make it difficult to find in a search effort. The San Juan is a stealthy diesel-electric submarine that is extremely quiet underwater and gives off few detectable emissions, especially if some of its systems may be disabled.