Pressure grows on Argentina's navy over missing submarine, as hopes fade for its crew of 44

Pressure grows on Argentina's navy over missing submarine, as hopes fade for its crew of 44Argentina’s Navy faces multiple investigations over the disappearance of the submarine ARA San Juan and the possible dismissal of its entire top brass, amid a swelling controversy over the accident and search efforts. A day after the Navy confirmed an apparent explosion close to the submarine’s last known position, the internal war that has been raging between the force and the government in Buenos Aires spilled out across Argentine media. Oscar Aguad, the defence minister, incensed by a succession of alleged failings by the force – which left him to learn of the ARA San Juan's disappearance from the media and then delayed revealing it had suffered a battery fault – is reported to have opened more than 40 probes to determine responsibility. Any dismissals would be unlikely to happen until the sub is found. The newspaper Clarin cited “high level” officials as saying that President Mauricio Macri wanted all efforts to remain focused on the search, though changes were “surely” ahead. On Friday, amid the growing furore, Mr Macri publicly cautioned against "taking risks in assigning blame". "This is going to take a serious, deep investigation that yields certainties about why what we are seeing happened," he told a news conference. Timeline | Submarine accidents Despite a fleet of US underwater vehicles scouring the area of the explosion, Captain Enrique Balbi, the Navy spokesperson, yesterday said they still had no trace of the ARA San Juan. There was some confusion over the scale of the explosion, as the head of the Vienna-based Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organisation – one of the sources of Thursday's report – suggested it could have been "very small” and may not have destroyed the San Juan. But Captain Balbi said the report Argentina had received “did not say a small explosion”. Amid angry complaints from families that Navy officials had “lied” to them and withheld information, Captain Balbi acknowledged that mistakes may have been made. “We are not infallible,” he said. “If there were errors, the Navy will not hesitate to say sorry.” But he defended the force against claims of delays in the operation, insisting protocol had been followed in waiting two days to begin a physical search. He also insisted the submarine had been in good condition. Relatives have raised doubts about the seaworthiness of the ARA San Juan, built in 1985. On Thursday, Itati Leguizmon, wife of radarist Germán Oscar Suárez, said that the submarine had suffered a “serious fault” in 2014 – the year that its mid-life renovation was completed. Ms Leguizmon, a lawyer, claimed an incident had occurred in which the submarine found itself unable to surface: the situation was so grave that the crew “said goodbye to each other”. Family members finally abandoned a vigil by the Mar del Plata naval base on Friday Credit:  Esteban Felix/ AP Questions are now being asked about that 2014 renovation, in particular, the decision to replace all internal elements of the batteries but retain the old casings. But, naval sources told La Nacion, the process was supervised by the submarine’s German builder, Thyssen Nordseewerke, and checked by Argentina’s National Institute of Industrial Technology, and was deemed satisfactory. Previous claims by the then-president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, that the repaired vessel could go to sea for another 30 years is also coming under scrutiny. As the government itself faces increasing pressure, party politics is likely to enter the blame game. The head of the congressional defence committee – a former defence minister under both Kirchner presidencies – will reportedly request an appearance by Mr Aguad.  Submarine rescue mission Federico Pinedo, the Senate’s provisional president, admitted publicly that Mr Macri was “angry at the situation”, but cautioned against premature conclusions over the tragedy. “It could have been an accident or it could have been have been because of lack of maintenance," he told the channel Todo Noticias. "There has to be a serious investigation.” But he could not resist a shot at the Kirchner governments, which he categorized as “anti-military”. “The neglect of defence hardware was a terrifying thing,” Mr Pinedo said. Families of the 44 crew members of the submarine on Friday gave up hope and went home after a days-long wait at the Mar del Plata naval base, saddened and angered. Jésica Gopar, wife of Mendoza Fernando Santilli, who was aboard the sub, told local reporters: "My husband missed my son's first birthday."

Yahoo News – Latest News & Headlines