Argentina last year chose to turn down a British offer of a minisub to search submarine ARA San Juan, it was reported Sunday. The then Navy Chief of Staff Admiral Marcelo Srur failed to convey the British offer December 5 last to Defense Minister Oscar Aguad, who confirmed the reports, according to the Buenos Aires daily Clarin.
In a broadcast interview, Aguad confirmed that at first, there was a rejection by the Navy, voiced by Srur, to any English participation in the search for the 44-member crew.
But then they were ordered by the government that all help would be accepted, because it was a commitment to the family.
At that point, ”the English asked for a liaison in Puerto Belgrano but never registered (in the Ministry) an offer of this nature, Aguad went on to say.
The offer is nonetheless recorded in the electronic message from the Navy's commander of training and recruitment, Admiral Enrique Lopez Mazzeo to Srur, according to Clarin.
In the message, Lopez Mazzeo explained the British had recommended the use of an underwater vehicle with high-definition sonar search capabilities, very similiar to the one being now deployed by the Norwegian-flagged Seabed Constructor ship.
López Mazzeo also mentioned that the British forces were able to send in such a vehicle straight from the Falkland Islands aboard the HMS Protector, which was to rejoin the search by December 8. It was an offer between fellow officers that needed approval at government level and given the Falklands dispute between the two countries, López Mazzeo asked that a formal request be submitted to British authorities in Buenos Aires. This message was never relayed to Aguad, let alone any British official.
Defense Ministry sources have confirmed Aguad has ordered current Navy Chief of Staff, Admiral José Luis Villán, to track this message down the files and the original transcription has been forwarded to Caleta Olivia Federal Judge Marta Yáñez, who is in charge of investigating if there was any wrongdoing in the San Juan's disappearance.
Srur had opened an internal investigation on López Mazzeo for withholding information from him on the seaworthiness of each ship, adding that had he known how the ARA San Juan was he would have never allowed her to set sail. Armed forces legal advisors have suggested any charge against López Mazzeo be dismissed. This internal dispute has led to the resignation of seven Navy officers.
Meanwhile, the Seabed Constructor is now focusing on an area previously pointed at by US and UK vessels and highlighted again this past week by the Chilean ship Cabo de Hornos.
As the Seabed Constructor's search nears a stop this coming Friday, naval specialists agree it is possible the ARA San Juan has always been there where they have already checked... But failed to spot it.
Can't be much farther away”, said retired Navy Captain Jorge R. Bergallo, whose son Jorge Ignacio is one of the 44 missing crew members of the ARA San Juan.
Bergallo also recalled the high-Tech equipment on board the Seabed Constructor can find metal parts of two feet in diameter. Other specialists, however, underlined that a submarine is designed to go undetected and this could be the cause for the lack of progress in the search for the San Juan.
Relatives of the missing sailors are disappointed, devastated and skeptical that the US company Ocean Infinity which owns the Seabed Constructor will resume its task in February after stopping next Friday.
Ocean Infinity will collect the US $ 7,5 million reward only if the San Juan is found. But the Argentine state currently has expenditures of US $ 50.000 per day to have a Navy ship assisting the Seabed Constructor.
Horacio Calderón, a former representstive of the shipyards which used to manufacture tr-1700 submarines, assumed the San Juan must be lying deep within an yet uncharted crack, which renders close approaches hazardous for the minisubs.
Bergallo also supported the implosion (an inward explosion) theory which would account for the absence of any emergency measure being adopted by the San Juan crew. He also pointed out the disappearance of a submarine was not new and recalled the case of the S467 in 1968 off Provence, in France, with a crew of 53. The accompanying plane landed back at Toulon but the sub never appeared, he stressed.