An international search mission for a missing Argentine submarine entered a critical phase on Tuesday after nearly a week without signs of life – as the vessel risked running out of oxygen after being submerged for so long.
The ARA San Juan would have enough oxygen for its crew to survive underwater for seven days, if there was no hull breach, according to officials. At 07:30 GMT on Wednesday, that time will have elapsed.
“The question of oxygen has worried us since the beginning,” admitted navy spokesperson Enrique Balbi.
“Little by little we enter an increasingly critical phase.”
The vessel, which has 44 crew members, made its last contact with authorities to report a mechanical breakdown, but, as storm conditions which had impeded rescuers eased, officials said they were not ceding to despair yet.
“We haven’t discarded any hypothesis. Assuming the most critical phase, which would be the submarine is submerged and cannot surface, we are in the 6th day of oxygen,” Enrique Balbi told a news conference in Buenos Aires earlier on Tuesday.
“As a submariner, I am not losing hope,” he said.
The 34-year-old German-built diesel-electric submarine that was refitted between 2007 and 2014 had flagged a breakdown in its batteries and said it was diverting its route from the far south of Argentina’s Atlantic waters to the navy base at Mar del Plata, where most of the crewmembers live.
It didn’t issue a distress call, however. It was unclear if the problem ended leaving the vessel without propulsion or unable to surface.
The search began November 16, when there was no more contact.