BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - The Argentine Navy submarine that went missing a year ago off the country’s Atlantic Coast was found by a private company involved in what had been a massive search for the vessel and its 44-member crew, the defence ministry said in a news conference on Saturday.
The ARA San Juan submarine was discovered by marine tracking contractor Ocean Infinity, 907 meters (2,975 feet) below the ocean surface. The vessel was found in an underwater canyon with its tail partially “imploded,” Argentina’s Defence Minister Carlos Aguad said.
Given the poor visibility at the site, the ministry said it only had preliminary information about the state of the submarine, which was scattered in pieces on the ocean floor.
Aguad could neither confirm nor deny if the vessel could be recovered, but said the government did “not have the means to extract the submarine.”
The disappearance gripped the nation’s attention as the government struggled to provide information about the tragedy. Relatives of the crew still have questions.
“We have found them,” Jorge Villarreal, father of one crew member told local radio. “Now we are going to search for the truth. For us this is the start of a new chapter.”
Aguad said: “Much of what happens from here will have to be resolved by the justice department. If there is someone responsible, they will be held responsible.”
At the time of the disappearance, the Navy said water that had entered the submarine’s snorkel caused its battery to short-circuit.
Naval officials said international organizations helping to search for the missing vessel a year ago detected a noise that could have been the submarine imploding, just two hours after its last contact.
The first anniversary of the submarine’s disappearance was commemorated at the Mar del Plata naval base on Nov. 15, with President Mauricio Macri in attendance.
The crew had been ordered to return to Mar del Plata on the country’s east coast. But the vessel was never heard from again.
Ocean Infinity, a U.S. company that can search and map the seabed, was hired by Argentina following the failure of an international operation to find the vessel after it went missing in the South Atlantic.
Ocean Infinity used five autonomous underwater vehicles to carry out the search, according to a statement from the company.
“Our thoughts are with the many families affected by this terrible tragedy. We sincerely hope that locating the resting place of the ARA San will be of some comfort to them,” the statement said.
The San Juan was some 430 km (270 miles) off Argentina’s Patagonian coast when it sent its last signal.
The disaster spurred soul-searching over the state of the military in Argentina, which after a series of financial crises has one of Latin America’s smallest defence budgets relative to the size of its economy. Some families of missing crew members blamed the government for underfunding the Navy.
Argentina learned a harsh lesson of submarines’ military value during the 1982 Falklands War, when a British sub sank the ARA General Belgrano cruiser. It was the only major ship Argentina lost in the war over the disputed Falkland Islands, which Argentina calls the Malvinas.
Additional reporting by Maximilian Heath, Scott Squires and Cassandra Garrison; Writing by Anthony Esposito, Hugh Bronstein and Scott Squires; Editing by Tom Hogue, Ros Russell and Bill Berkrot