BUENOS AIRES — The Argentine Navy on Thursday signaled that it had given up hope of finding the 44 crew members aboard a submarine that appeared to have experienced a calamitous event in mid-November. The announcement almost certainly is an acknowledgment of the largest loss of life aboard a submarine in nearly two decades.
Capt. Enrique Balbi, a navy spokesman, said the operation to find the submarine, the San Juan, had been downgraded from a rescue mission to a search for the remains of the vessel.
Captain Balbi said the navy would not “give categorical confirmation” that the crew members had died. But he noted that the rescue had continued far beyond the time the submariners were likely to have survived even if the vessel had not experienced a catastrophic event.
The disappearance of the San Juan on Nov. 15 transfixed Argentines during the early days of the search.
Relatives of the crew members largely gave up hope last week after officials disclosed that sensors had detected an unusual event that appeared to be an explosion in the area where the vessel had been sailing hours after the crew was last in contact. During the call, the submarine’s captain reported that a leak had fried part of the vessel’s battery system.
The Russian Kursk submarine sank in 2000 during a training exercise with 118 sailors onboard.