BUENOS AIRES – The relatives of the 44 crewmembers of the missing Argentine navy submarine ARA San Juan have been going through an increasingly tense 12 days with no word as to the fate of their loved ones, although an intensive search is under way in the South Atlantic with the help of several nations.
Tensions boiled over on Monday among some of the relatives on the Mar del Plata naval base, 400 kilometers (250 miles) south of Buenos Aires, where they have been waiting for any news about the missing sub, which was heading for that port when contact with it was lost on the morning of Nov. 15.
The incident occurred when Itati Leguizamon, the wife of one of the sub’s crew, was attacked by relatives of other sailors after she said on television that she believes the crew “are dead.”
“They felt offended because I am stating that they are dead, something that (the relatives) are continuing to deny, saying that they are alive and well,” said Leguizamon, the wife of radio operator German Oscar Suarez, in remarks to reporters.
She said that, on Monday upon trying to enter the base to learn the latest about the search operation, “several people” insulted her, told her to go away and even tried to beat her.
“If they don’t want to accept it, that’s their problem. Everyone accepts what they want,” said the woman, referring to the other relatives, who are receiving ongoing psychological help and medical assistance on the base.
Among those who are maintaining their hope of seeing their loved ones again is Marta Vallejos, the sister of the ARA San Juan’s sonar operator, who on Monday spent her first day fasting, which she said she intends to keep doing “until the crew shows up.”
“The idea is to spread this around so that the country and the world unite and we can have great faith and hope,” the sister of Celso Oscar Vallejos said, adding that she will eat “no solid food,” but rather an “all liquid” diet, until “the day they find them and bring them home again.”
She said she was “completely convinced” that the 44 “can’t be having a good time” but they “are fine.”
In the official report issued to the public and the press on Monday, the Argentine navy said that “unfortunately” authorities still have not been able to locate the ARA San Juan, the last known position of which was about 432 km off Argentina’s southern coast.
Navy spokesman Enrique Balbi said that 14 vessels from several nations are conducting a “slow sweep” of the ocean floor in the vicinity of the spot where an explosion was detected on the day the sub disappeared.
Also being used in the search is a US remote submersible able to descend to a depth of 900 meters (about 2,950 feet).
The search vessels, accompanied by three aircraft are participating – along with more than 4,000 personnel from Argentina and 13 other nations, including the US, Russia and Britain – in the extensive search.
Scheduled to join the search in the coming hours and days are another US minisubmarine that could be used to effect a rescue of living crewmembers from a sunken sub as well as an underwater inspection vehicle equipped with high-quality cameras, along with Russia’s high-tech scientific exploration vessel Yantar.
Balbi confirmed on Monday that the ARA San Juan said in a communication sent at 12:30 am on Nov. 15 that water had gotten into the vessel through the snorkel and splashed onto a battery, causing a short circuit and producing smoke, after which the sub proceeded submerged toward the Mar del Plata base.