Relatives mourn missing Argentine submarine crew, frantic search on

Ten days after the missing Argentine submarine San Juan went silent, grieving relatives have begun mourning the loss of its 44 missing crew members with a religious ceremony Saturday, even though the navy has yet to declare them dead.

A religious service is set to be held outside the Mar del Plata naval base, where the submarine was based, to support grieving friends and relatives.

The navy has refused to say there is no chance of finding survivors.

But many relatives of the crew have lost hope since the navy announced Thursday that there had been an explosion on board the submarine, which experts said was likely linked to a problem with its batteries and would likely have been catastrophic.

A handful of relatives held out hope that at least some of the sailors aboard the 34-year-old submarine, which had recently been retrofitted, could be found alive.

The frantic search for the San Juan “will continue day and night with help from 13 countries,” navy spokesman Captain Enrique Balbi said late Friday.

Hopes were boosted by the arrival later in the day of a giant Russian Antonov transport plane bringing an underwater robot that can scour the ocean at a depth of 1,000 meters (3,300 feet) below the surface.

Separately, an army of welders worked frantically to create an opening in the stern of the Norwegian offshore supply ship Sophie Siem, owned by the Total oil company, large enough to accomodate an underwater rescue capsule sent by the US navy.

The US capsule can sink to a depth of 200 meters (660 feet) and rescue up to 16 trapped submarine sailors at a time in shifts of 20 minutes, experts said.

Depths plummet from 200 meters (650 feet) to more than 3,000 meters on the edge of the Argentine shelf.

Experts say the sub would begin to break-up once below depths of around 600 meters due to the water pressure.

President Mauricio Macri on Friday ordered an inquiry to “know the truth” about what happened to the San Juan.

The submarine and was “in perfect condition,” Macri told reporters at the Argentine navy headquarters.

“My commitment is with the truth,” he said, adding the tragedy “will require a serious, in-depth investigation that will yield certainty about what has happened.”

Argentina´s navy has been fiercely criticised for its handling of the operation since first reporting on November 16 that the San Juan had not returned to base as scheduled.

“Until we have the complete information, we do not have to look for the guilty, to look for those responsible. First we have to have certainty of what happened and why it happened,” said Macri.

Magistrate Marta Yanez has already begun preliminary investigations into the disaster.

She told reporters that unlike a plane, “the submarine does not have a black box. The black box is the submarine,” and it would have to be recovered before the causes of the explosion could be known.

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