‘ARA San Juan’ Recap And Ending: Was The Argentine Submarine Ever Found?

The mysterious disappearance of ARA San Juan, an Argentine submarine, brought about a huge wave of chaos in the country in 2017. The Netflix docu-series ARA San Juan has presented us with information on real events associated with that incident and some conspiracy theories along the line. The struggle of the families of the 44 missing crew members who had fought to search for them has been presented in a realistic format in the eight-part series. Will Mauricio Macri help the civilians with the search? Will they eventually find the lost submarine? Did the officials try to hide something relevant to the case? Let’s find out!


Spoilers Ahead

How Did Ara San Juan Suddenly Go Missing?

On October 15th, 2017, ARA San Juan set sail from Mar del Plata (naval base), planning to reach the port of Ushuaia. It had been performing a patrol of the area as a part of its naval exercises when it suddenly went missing. A journalist, Andres Klipphan, stated that the vessel was important for the navy as not many military exercises were carried out due to the lack of budget. Fernando Morales, a naval officer, stated that the ARA San Juan was involved in target detection, air-bubble curtains, and classic military exercises. 


On November 4th, 2017, the submarine arrived in Ushuaia, and the people there were excited as they came to the naval base to take pictures of it. The important officials were given a courtesy tour around the submarine. The submarine captain, Pedro Fernandez, along with 43 other crew members, set sail after a series of tests. The tests were recorded on a form and then signed by the corporals, non-commissioned officers, lieutenant, second in command, and finally by the commander. The last part of ARA San Juan’s mission included patrolling the exclusive economic zone of the county, which extended up to 200 nautical miles. The illegal fishing vessels made a loss of 2.6 billion dollars each year (mainly the fleets from China, Taiwan, South Korea, and Spain). The submarine had to ensure that no vessel was operating secretly along the coastline. The submarine was also set to record and report on the activities of the ships stationed by the UK on Malvinas Island. The last detected position of the submarine, while in operation, was about 400 kilometers off the coast near San Jorge Gulf. 

What Happened After The Communication Was Severed?

Right after communication was severed with the submarine, the naval base at Mar Dela Plata tried their best to communicate with the vessel. They initially thought, as the vessel was within the intercom time frame, they might send a message. Villamide, being in charge of the Naval Subdivision, was quite concerned about how they had stopped communicating. Even on the 16th of November, when the crew members did not respond, the authorities informed their families. It had been almost 48 hours since they had last sent back any signal or left any message. Captain Enrique Balbi, the spokesman of the navy, declared it a SAR (search and rescue) case, and the largest rescue team in history was deployed to make a search. Even several countries had been involved in the search using the best of their marine technologies. Guillermo Montenegro, the national deputy congressman, was hopeful that they would soon be able to trace the submarine. Initially, people had some faith in the navy, but it slowly started dwindling after a few days. The analysis reports stated that the submarine could have been lost in the South Atlantic Sea due to unfavorable conditions. It was also stated that the oxygen in the submarine would last only 7 days. 


President Mauricio Macri started dodging the families as the days went by. Minister of Defense Oscar Aguad also gave them false hopes, saying that they had been trying their best to find the crew member. The families realized that the promises were all fake, and they even blamed the second in command of the navy, Miguel Angel Mascolo, for not providing them with any information on the matter. Later, when Balbi told them that there was a possibility of an explosion in the submarine, the concerned families started blaming the government. 

Did The Government Stand In Solidarity With The Families?

The last naval message from the submarine was being broadcast on the news channels, saying that the water had reached the batteries and there was an explosion. The news, however, did not talk about any casualties, keeping the families of the crew in the dark. This event led to the government ceasing to search for the crew members as they realized that there was no chance that anyone would have survived. This led to a protest on the part of the family members at the naval base. Meanwhile, the Argentine navy filed a complaint at the Federal Court of Caleta Olivia for a criminal investigation on the matter, with Judge Marta Yanez looking into the case. This small city had to be chosen for the case as it was closest in a straight line to the submarine’s last known location. The case had been constantly becoming more convoluted with each passing day, making the families suspicious of the legal system. The legal system was loose, and the judge did not even issue a search warrant, leaving for a vacation instead. The families this time went to involve the parliamentary committee, which was a bicameral commission, including 6 senators, 6 Congress members, 5 experts, and the families. The family members demanded justice from the committee. 


What Was Found Out During Committee Sessions?

The investigations at the committee sessions revealed that water had gotten into the ventilation system, causing the fire. It was brought out that Captain Fernandez had been ordered to cancel the mission and resurface, but he said that he would go back up when the storm had subsided. However, when matters got worse, they updated on going to check the battery tank, but there was no update any further. It was also reported that the Eco-19 valve on the submarine had failed despite testing. As the valve had to be closed manually, it was the captain’s duty to ensure that it had been secured. However, Captain Fernandezhad a test performed on CO2 atmosphere control and had opened the valve at that point (while submerged). 

The July voyage was crucial, during which the valve was examined and a thorough report of it was made. Many people were now questioning Captain Fernandez’s qualifications and the lack of knowledge transfer and training by the upper officials to the submariners. There were also accusations in the Bicameral Commission against the Commander of Enlistment and Training, Enrique Lopez Mazzeo, and the Commander of Sub Force, Claudio Villamide, for mismanagement. It was brought out that Villamide did not take any necessary steps to prevent the fire in the submarine. He simply ignored the gravity of the situation and did not order them to float on the surface towards Mar del Plata. Enrique and Villamide were dismissed as a result of the irregularities in the SRA. However, when Villamide was asked, he said that the vessel didn’t show any signs beforehand and that for TR-1700 submarines, it is recommended to minimize surface transits as they tend to delve deeper in stormy weather. Judge Marta said that the submarine was in bad shape and should not have been allowed to set sail. 

President Cristina Fernandes de Kirchner (2007–2015) had spent more than 16 million dollars for a midlife repair of the submarine. It was very important for the submarines to have such repairs every 20–22 years for their longevity. However, the current corruption in the country could have led to poor repair, causing it to meet with an accident. The batteries had not been changed for years, making it prone to sparks, causing a fire. By the end of the investigation, the Commission came to the conclusion that it was a collective fault and that they could not give the families any singular name. 

What Did The CTBTO Imply?

The CTBTO helped in determining which devices possessed the kind of intensity to explode that could have caused the submarine any potential damage. It was revealed that the capacity required to make such an explosion was possible with 208 kg of TNT power. The MK 54 anti-sub Argentinian bomb and the MK 11 British bomb have the capacity to make an explosion, which can be compared to 100 kg of TNT underwater. It was implied that the submarine had probably been externally attacked. There was also a possibility of the batteries leading to a leak of hydrogen, resulting in a short circuit that caused the fire. But it was contestable, as it was not clear how they could reach such a high hydrogen level. It also seems improbable that with such high hydrogen levels, the commander would have decided to go back in the water. 


Could The British Naval Forces Have Attacked The Submarine?

The Chief of Staff, Marcos Pena, stated that the submarine was very close to the Malvinas area. It is possible that it had encountered a British nuclear submarine. As a result of the tension between Argentina and the UK over the latter having illegally captured the Malvinas in 1833, a possible conflict could have arisen. A crew member during the July mission stated that they were being followed by a submarine for half a day. It also came up that they had detected the sonar signature of a possible nuclear sub in the previous year. 

The CTBTO confirmed the origin of the explosion of the submarine and confirmed that a non-nuclear event was consistent with a nuclear event. When a key test was done by the Navy, they detonated a charge at depth, and it was revealed to be an anti-submarine bomb that was at a depth of 40 meters. When the final findings were submitted, it was brought out that both the events of the explosion of the submarine and the detonation of anti-submarine bombs had similarities. It was also found out through a text that a crew member had sent to his relative, stating that they were being followed by a British helicopter. It is possible that the mist from those helicopters caused the submarine to explode underwater. 


Did Macri Order An Espionage To Be Carried Out On The Relatives?

The people started resenting the false promises that Macri made to the relatives. When he finally met them at the Pink House, he seemed very put off by all the work that he had to do. Things started getting out of hand when the families complained that suddenly the WhatsApp profiles and their chats disappeared. They were sure that someone was illegally spying on them. It was later revealed that the AFI (involved in directly sending sensitive reports to the President) was involved in it. The families started blaming Macri for it, but he denied it, saying that AFI had acted on their own accord. While the case against Macri was still ongoing, it was decided that he would be transferred from the courts of Dolores to the Comodoro Py courts. He was eventually saved because of a lack of evidence against him. The AFI stated that they had conducted the operation to ensure the safety of the president. 

Why Did The Government Finally Choose Ocean Infinity To Explore The Seabed?

Hugo Marino, the CEO of Electronic Aquatic Systems, came forward and offered to help the families find the submarine. Meanwhile, the president offered a reward for finding the vessel so that the companies would feel further encouraged to help with the search. The government later hired Igeotest to carry forward the search. The relatives opposed this decision as the company in question was not stable (it filed for bankruptcy in Spain). Moreover, the government had agreed to pay them within 120 days, even if they were not able to find the vessel. 


When the families protested, chaining themselves outside the Pink House for months, the government decided to cancel the contract. Finally, the government chose Ocean Infinity, and this time even the families were able to impose some clauses that included four family members being able to oversee all activities of the company on board. When a group of four people were chosen among the family members, they set off on a 60-day voyage with the company to find the submarine. The search was called Sweep, and they used advanced technologies to make the search. However, on the 48th day of the search, the company wanted to stop their search, saying that all their resources had been depleted. It was rumored that they had a contract in Africa for which they had been planning to drop the search. The judge, Marta, came on board to convince them to stay, and after a lot of nagging, they decided to continue. 

Was Ara San Juan Finally Found?

The search was almost about to come to an end, but then a French geologist detected a strange shock wave effect on the ground. When they were informed about it, they immediately sailed south, and upon lowering the ROV, they found ARA San Juan. The situation was a bit strange, as two days before the submarine was found, Macri had come to the naval base and hinted at having almost found the submarine. All the families came up with the speculation that he was somehow involved with the accident and that he knew the location of the submarine all along. 


When all the countries were busy searching for the same spot one year ago, they did not find anything. It was really mysterious that the vessel had been found in the same spot that had been thoroughly searched in the past year. The captain of a Chilean participating ship, Cabo de Hornos, said that he detected the silhouette of the submarine through their sonar (11 days after it had gone missing), but the government completely ignored his reports. There are high chances of the government being involved in trying to hide the location of the submarine for a year. It is possible that they were trying to bury their own faults in letting faulty submarines function, or maybe even something bigger!

The fact that Ocean Infinity, being an expert in oil extraction, was hired by the government was raising eyebrows. Just one month after the submarine disappeared, Aranguren, the Secretary of Argentinian Energy, held a proposal for offshore exploration of the Malvinas basin. They were to drill the basin to explore hydrocarbon reserves. The fact that the North American company, Ocean Infinity, had taken that long to search for the vessel was fishy. It is possible that they had been exploring the Argentine sea base to collect information on the natural reserves. It is possible that the company had been in collaboration with some secret forces who wanted to obtain information on the Argentine natural resources. 


Why Were The Images Tampered With?

Ocean Infinity had taken several HD pictures, and downloading the information took a total of 16 days. It had been kept in high security, sealed away in a coded suitcase as evidence. Later, it was proven that Judge Marta had broken the seal and tampered with the images. A difference in the footage and pictures was evident, as they all seemed to be cropped and color corrected. After looking at the images, the families were almost sure that there was definitely something that the government had been trying to hide from them. The axle in the picture was shiny and showed no signs of rust or decay (as if someone had freshly dropped it into the water). 

Who Was Finally Accused In The Case?

The ones accused to date for their failure to keep up with their duties as public servants are Claudio Villamide, Luis Enrique Lopez Mazzeo, Hector Alonso, and Hugo Miguel Correa. However, proceedings against Macri, Aguad, and Srur are still ongoing. However, Macri, Gustavo Arribas, and Siliva Majdalani had been acquitted of the charges of secretly spying on the relatives due to a lack of evidence against them. 


Final Thoughts

It is very tragic that the 44 heroes who had been guarding the natural resources of Argentina have met such tragic ends. The way the government showed a lack of interest in trying to support the families in their search for the submarine is very disheartening. The docuseries ARA San Juan doesn’t fail to effectively portray several conspiracy theories that surround the case. The series portrays the way governments try to sabotage the military to stop them from forming coups. It is unlikely that a second part of ARA San Juan will be made, but if director Mauricio Albornoz Iniesta ever decides to come up with a second part of the docu-series, it is likely to deal with the inner conflicts of the families and the way they have been dealing with their loss. 

Debjyoti Dey
Debjyoti Dey
Debjyoti’s obsession with creativity and travel fervor has helped her branch out into the entertainment genre. Her love for psychological thrillers helps her get a daily dose of adrenaline. A regular caricature of the films and its characters is what keeps her going!

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