A multi-party commission of Argentine legislators has concluded that the highly publicised loss of a submarine nearly two years prior was due to the inefficiency of navy leaders as well as budget limitations.
In a report released on July 19, the legislators said that senior Argentine Navy officials were at fault for the loss of ARA San Juan on November 15, 2017, for allowing the submarine and its crew to participate in an exercise in the high seas despite being fully aware of a number of unresolved maintenance issues.
The night before San Juan disappeared, its captain reported via radio that a fire had ignited in one of the onboard battery tanks after an undetermined volume of seawater entered the submarine through its ventilation system. The captain reported the situation was under control the following day as he ordered the helmsman to take the submarine to a depth of 40 metres before assessing the damage.
It was the last time that anyone from San Juan‘s 44-person crew ever made contact with the outside world.
The submarine remained undiscovered until barely a year later, when it was found by a US-operated research and survey vessel at a depth of 800 metres off the coast of the eastern Argentine city of Comodoro Rivadavia.
The legislative report said that the navy had decided to continue operating the submarine even in the face of continually shrinking maintenance budgets affecting the entire fleet. The resulting maintenance issues were “underestimated by the entire chain of command” and so were left unaddressed by the time the incident occurred.
The navy had “accepted as normal” the decision to operate vessels under conditions that increasingly placed crews at risk, the report added.
The legislators also determined that both navy and defence ministry officials chose to deliberately withhold the circumstances of the tragedy from the San Juan crew’s family members and the public at large.
President Mauricio Macri, who has also been called into question by the legislative commission for his handling of the crisis, has declined to comment on the report.
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