BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Federal police officers raided naval bases and other buildings in Argentina on Friday as part of an investigation into the disappearance of a submarine with 44 crewmembers.
The raids at the sub’s home base in the coastal city of Mar del Plata, in Buenos Aires and near the city of Bahia Blanca, were ordered by Federal Judge Marta Yanez, who told local TN television that she wants to review documents focused on the condition of the vessel before it began its journey. She also said that she wants to look into possible faults in the midlife refit of the submarine.
A blast occurred near the time and place where the ARA San Juan went missing Nov. 15 as it was sailing from the extreme southern port of Ushuaia to Mar del Plata. Argentina gave up hope of finding survivors, but the navy has continued searching for the vessel.
The German-built diesel-electric TR-1700 class submarine was commissioned in the mid-80’s and was most recently refitted between 2008 and 2014. During the $12 million retrofitting, the vessel was cut in half and had its engines and batteries replaced.
Experts say refits can be difficult because they involve integrating systems produced by different manufacturers, and even the tiniest mistake during the cutting phase can put the safety of the ship and crew at risk.
The navy says that the captain reported on Nov. 15 that water entered the snorkel and caused one of the sub’s batteries to short-circuit. The captain later communicated that it had been contained.
Some hours later, an explosion was detected near the time and place where the San Juan was last heard from. The navy says the blast could have been caused by a “concentration of hydrogen” triggered by the battery problem reported by the captain.
President Mauricio Macri has promised a full investigation, and the government recently dismissed the head of its navy as part of the probe.