The Argentine government has removed two top naval officers from their duties following the sinking, this week at her moorings pier-side of the destroyer “Santisima Trinidad” once the flagship of the service and which was actively involved in the invasion of the Falklands in 1982.
Defence minister Arturo Puricelli ordered the head of the Navy “the immediate removal from their posts” of the officers in charge of Maintenance and Arsenal, Alberto Garcia Grigioni and the head of the Decommissioning Group Marino Veccia.
However the incident could be the last straw of a very poor ministerial performance for Puricelli and his exit in a near future.
Puricelli in early statements last week did not discard that the destroyer which has been out of service since 2004 and now lying on her side at the Puerto Belgrano naval base could have been the target of a terrorist plot.
In the letter addressed to the navy’s command removing the officers, Puricelli said the sanctions had been taken “to favour the course of the investigation and ensure the transparency and objectivity of the procedure”.
Following the incident Puricelli who said he felt ashamed of what had happened with the vessel sunken at her moorings pier-side, and even more when having to explain what happened to the president, demanded from the Navy brass to determine the circumstances which led to the incident adding he had great doubts about the whole issue because the destroyer is not that old since it was commissioned in the seventies.
The 4.100 tons Santisima Trinidad, 124 metres long, 14.6ms beam and 5.2ms draught was equipped with sea-air missiles and was considered the flagship of the Argentine navy when the invasion of the Falklands in 1982 that led to the 74-day South Atlantic conflict.
Amphibious commandos and tactical divers were landed by the “Santisima Trinidad” on April first in the Falklands in anticipation of the main invasion that followed on April 2.
The British designed destroyer built in Argentina in the seventies is similar to the Type 42 destroyers “Sheffield” and “Coventry” which were sunk by the Argentines during the conflict.
The wireless message asking the surrender of the Falklands Governor Sir Rex Hunt and the Marines detachment was also radioed from the destroyer.
However despite the investigation, the removal of top naval officers, Minister Puricelli’s job could also be on the line given the string of errors and his complete lack of knowledge regarding armed forces terminology after two years in the ministry and before that as head of Military Industries.
On taking office he named a petty officer head of media and public relations which caused inconveniences with military protocol.
Last October in the midst of the ARA Libertad conflict with Ghana, Puricelli admitted his responsibility.
“The ministry of Defense planned the trip on suggestion from the Navy with a call in Ghana as a political approach to Africa” Puricelli told crew members who were flown out of Ghana while the vessel remained impounded.
As a consequence of the public commotion over the impounding of ARA Libertad Puricelli had to sacrifice the head of intelligence, Maria Lourdes Puente Olivera, apparently considered a brilliant officer, says the Buenos Aires media.
That same month Puricelli had to remove the head of the Navy he had named last February, together with the two other top ranking officers.
Likewise he had to support the street protests of the Coast Guard, Gendarmerie and Armed Forces petty officers complaining about salaries and contributions to pension funds. At the time he argued that “military personnel salaries are reasonable and adequate to the current economic reality”.
However the whole payments system and pensions scheme was reviewed and amended.
Puricelli had made President Cristina Fernandez sign Decrees 1305 and 1307, which were the cause of all the payments distortions that finally led to the protests.
Given the claims and proven errors in the calculi of the salaries the administration of President Cristina Fernandez had to back step and suspend the controversial decrees.
There is also the incident with the corvette Espora stranded for months in South Africa because of lack of spares, maintenance and refusal of the Germans to supply them until previous bills were honored.
ARA Espora was the third choice to participate in naval exercises with South Africa and Brazil because one of the vessels also had engine problems and couldn’t sail, the other was stranded in the subs naval base of Mar del Plata because of the sand silting in the exit canal.
Although previous to his time, the Argentine navy’s icebreaker “Almirant Irizar” which suffered heavy damages when she caught fire on return from Antarctica remains in out of service since 2007.
In other words the Puricelli could have to exit cabinet carrying in his pack the exposure of Argentina’s decadent navy.