Russian deep-sea craft joins international search for Argentine submarine

ARA San Juan last gave its location on Nov 15, and the Argentine navy said weather is complicating efforts, taking place both above and below the surface.

BUENOS AIRES – The Russian military has sent its top-notch research vessel, equipped with submersible drones, to assist the search for the missing Argentinian submarine, the Defense Ministry said on Thursday.

The ‘Yantar’ has been sent to the search area, where ARA San Juan with 44 crew members on board is believed to be stranded, the ministry said in a statement. On Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin offered help in finding the submarine, which has been missing since November 15, the RT reports.

The submersibles on the ‘Yantar’ are capable of diving up to 6,000 meters and are equipped with manipulators and other devices for complex underwater operations. The ship itself has advanced detectors, which may help to determine the precise location of the submarine.

The Russian military has also sent an airborne team of maritime rescue operation specialists to assist in the search. Among other things the team is equipped with a submersible called Pantera Plus.

The Russian intervention comes at a moment when time is running out for the Argentine submariners, who may still be alive but in danger of running out of oxygen in a stranded vessel. So far the location of the missing sub has not been pinpointed, but rescuers have some leads to investigate.

Ships and planes hunting for the missing sub will return to a previous search area after officials said Wednesday that a noise made a week ago in the South Atlantic could provide a clue to the vessel’s location.

The Argentina navy spokesman, Capt. Enrique Balbi, said the “hydro-acoustic anomaly” was determined by the United States and specialist agencies to have been produced Nov. 15, just hours after the final contact with the ARA San Juan and could have come from the sub.

The sound originated about 30 miles north of the submarine’s last registered position, he said. “It’s a noise. We don’t want to speculate” about what caused it, Balbi said.

He added Argentine navy ships as well as a U.S. P-8 Poseidon aircraft and a Brazilian air force plane would return to the area to check out the clue, even though the area has been searched.

On land, relatives of the submarine’s crew grew increasingly distressed as experts said the vessel lost for seven days might be reaching a critical period of low oxygen.

ARA San Juan went missing as it was sailing from the extreme southern port of Ushuaia to the city of Mar del Plata, about 400 kilometers southeast of Buenos Aires.

The Argentine navy and outside experts worry that oxygen for the crew would last only seven to 10 days if the sub was intact but submerged. Authorities do not know if the sub rose to the surface to replenish its oxygen supply and charge batteries, which would affect the calculation.

The German-built diesel-electric TR-1700 class submarine was scheduled to arrive on Monday at the naval base in Mar del Plata, where city residents have been dropping by with messages of support for relatives of the crew.

More than two dozen airplanes and ships are participating in the multinational search despite stormy weather that has caused waves of more than 6 meters. Search teams are combing an area of some 480,000 square kilometers, which is roughly the size of Spain.

Britain has sent the Royal Navy’s HMS Protector and HMS Clyde, plus a Falklands’ stationed RAF C-130 aircraft and a Voyager refuelling aircraft.

The U.S. government has sent two P-8 Poseidons, a naval research ship, a submarine rescue chamber and sonar-equipped underwater vehicles. U.S. Navy sailors from the San Diego-based Undersea Rescue Command are also helping with the search.

President Donald Trump went on Twitter to offer his good wishes to Argentina on Wednesday, though he inflated the number of missing sailors by one.

“I have long given the order to help Argentina with the Search and Rescue mission of their missing submarine. 45 people aboard and not much time left. May God be with them and the people of Argentina!” his tweet said.

Hopes were lifted after brief satellite calls were received and when sounds were detected deep in the South Atlantic. But experts later determined that neither was from the missing sub. A U.S. Navy aircraft later spotted flares and a life raft was found in the search area, but authorities said neither came from the missing submarine.

The false alarms have rattled nerves among distraught family members. Some have begun to complain that the Argentine navy responded too late.