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Missing Argentine Submarine Families End Vigil


The wife of sailor Fernando Villarreal, a crew member of the missing submarine, shows his picture as she prays at the naval base in Mar de Plata, Argentina, Friday, Nov. 24, 2017.

After days of waiting to hear news about their missing loved ones, families of the crew members of an Argentine submarine have decided to go home.

They were waiting at the Mar del Plata naval base for news about the ARA San Juan. The submarine disappeared on November 15 during a routine mission. Ten days later, it has not been found and grieving relatives scheduled a religious ceremony for Saturday afternoon.

The Argentine navy, however, has not declared the 44 crew members dead. The navy also hasn't said if there is any chance of finding survivors.

Navy spokesman Enrique Balbi talks to journalists in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Nov. 21, 2017.
Navy spokesman Enrique Balbi talks to journalists in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Nov. 21, 2017.

On Friday, a navy spokesperson said the submarine was not on a “secret or special mission” when it disappeared. Speaking at a daily briefing in Buenos Aires, Captain Enrique Balbi said there was no indication of “any attack.”

The Argentine navy said Thursday that a possible explosion had been heard in the ocean not long after one of its submarines went missing with 44 people aboard.

The Argentine navy described the explosion that followed near the sub's location as an "anomalous, short, violent."

Friends and family of missing submarine crew members place a flag on the fence of the naval base in Mar de Plata, Argentina, Nov. 24, 2017.
Friends and family of missing submarine crew members place a flag on the fence of the naval base in Mar de Plata, Argentina, Nov. 24, 2017.

The U.S. Navy and an international nuclear test ban monitoring organization said the "hydroacoustic anomaly'' was produced just hours after the navy lost contact with the submarine.

Balbi said officials did not know what caused the explosion. He said the search would continue until there was certainty about the fate of the San Juan.

The 34-year-old German-built, diesel-electric submarine, had reported a battery problem on November 15 and said it was diverting to its home base at Mar del Plata, but did not send a distress signal, according to the navy.

This undated photo provided by the Argentina Navy shows an ARA San Juan, a German-built diesel-electric vessel, near Buenos Aires, Argentina.
This undated photo provided by the Argentina Navy shows an ARA San Juan, a German-built diesel-electric vessel, near Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Assuming that the submarine remained intact after the blast and settled to the ocean floor, the ship had only a seven-day supply of oxygen, which might have run out Wednesday.

The week-long search has focused on the sub's last known position, about 320 kilometers off the Argentine coast, but has been hampered by bad weather.

Russia on Thursday sent navy specialists and analysts to areas off the coast of Argentina to assist in the search.

The U.S. Navy has sent underwater search vehicles and two undersea rescue systems to help with the effort.

The 2,000-ton submersible uses diesel engines on the surface and battery-powered electric motors underwater. At the surface, the vessel's four diesels can charge the batteries.

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    Aline Barros

    Aline Barros is an immigration reporter for VOA’s News Center in Washington, D.C. Before joining VOA in 2016, Aline worked for the Gazette Newspapers and Channel 21 Montgomery Community Media, both in Montgomery County, Md. She has been published by the Washington Post, G1 Portal Brazilian News, and Fox News Latino. Aline holds a broadcast journalism degree from University of Maryland. Follow her @AlineBarros2.

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