Seven failed satellite calls were detected on Saturday that Argentina’s defence ministry believes could be from submarine that went missing in the south Atlantic three days ago with 44 crew on board.
The calls, believed to be from the ARA San Juan submarine, lasted between four and 36 seconds, the ministry said in a statement, suggesting the crew were trying to re-establish contact. The ministry said it was working on tracing the location with an unnamed US company that specialised in satellite communications.
It was not immediately clear what type of calls the vessel might have tried to make but submarines that are stricken underwater can float a location beacon known as an emergency position indicator radio beacon (EPIRB) to the surface that can then emit emergency signals via satellite.
Argentina has begun preparing for an underwater rescue while an international effort has also started to locate the missing vessel.
The Argentinian navy lost radio contact with the San Juan after its last scheduled transmission on Wednesday morning. It was on a 10-day voyage from Argentina’s southernmost port of Ushuaia to the naval base at Mar del Plata, 400km (250 miles) south of Buenos Aires.
The international search team includes the US and UK. A British Hercules plane from the nearby Falkland Islands, which Argentina claims as Las Malvinas, will be joining the search, Argentinian authorities confirmed.
The Falkland Islands issued a statement Saturday supporting Argentina in its search. “We understand that the British government has offered the assistance of the British armed forces in the search, and that it has joined an international effort which also includes the United States. The Falkland Islands government extends its sincere hope that the submarine is found swiftly,” the statement said.
Argentina’s navy said it was not sure what happened to the submarine or why it lost contact but that it was now convinced the ship was beneath the surface and not adrift on choppy seas, as was previously thought.
“At this point in the search and rescue mission we can’t discard any hypothesis,” said Mar del Plata naval base chief Gabriel González. “We haven’t been able to locate the submarine on the surface, that is why we are now giving priority to the search for the sunken submarine,” González said on Saturday.
“An underwater search is much more complicated because it requires the use of more technology including sonar,” the officer added.
The search was being complicated by a storm creating 10-metre waves in the area, the navy said.
Among the 44 crew members is Argentina’s first female submarine officer, 35-year-old Eliana Krawzyck. Her father, Eduardwo Krawzyck, said: “We are extremely worried, with little news, waiting for information.”
Other relatives were equally distressed. “We don’t know anything, we’re desperate,” said Cristina Ramallo, whose brother Javier is on board.
A search of 80% of the sea surface area where the submarine is believed to have disappeared has been completed, according to naval authorities. The search area extends across a range of 300km, located 430km off the coast of Argentina’s southern province of Chubut.
Three Argentinian ships have been souring the area, with another seven on the way. A US tracker plane from Nasa, which was on its way to a mission in Antarctica, has joined the search. The British polar ice patrol ship HMS Protector, equipped with sonar equipment, is also providing assistance.
A US Navy Boeing P8 plane specialising in anti-submarine warfare will be arriving to the area soon as well, Argentinian authorities said.
Offers for aid have been received also from South Africa and Brazil, as well as other South American nations.
Argentina’s foreign minister, Jorge Faurie, tweeted. “I am deeply grateful to all the friendly nations who are collaborating in the humanitarian search we Argentinians are undertaking.”
Argentina’s president, Mauricio Macri, has moved to the coastal city of
Chapadmalal, near Mar del Plata, because of the situation.