NEW: Ministry, naval officer at odds over whether sub tried to contact naval bases
Sub with 44 in crew was last seen Wednesday; US assets will assist search
Amid reports a missing Argentine submarine tried unsuccessfully to contact naval bases seven times, a top navy officer said Sunday there is no indication the calls came from the ARA San Juan.
“The calls are being analyzed, but we do not have clear evidence that they came from that unit,” said Gabriel Gonzales, who is in charge of the base where the submarine was slated to arrive Sunday, according to state-run news agency Télam.
Earlier Sunday, the country’s defense ministry said the calls came to different bases between 10:52 a.m. and 3:42 p.m. Saturday, and lasted between four and 36 seconds, the ministry said in a statement to CNN en Español.
“We received seven satellite calls that likely came from the submarine San Juan. We are working hard to locate it. To the families of the 44 crew members: We hope you’ll have them home soon,” Argentina’s Defense Minister Oscar Aguad tweeted.
The navy said the military is working with a US-based company that specializes in satellite communication to determine the location of the submarine, which has been missing for more than three days.
The ARA San Juan submarine and its 44 crew members were traveling through the Atlantic Ocean from a base in southern Argentina’s Tierra del Fuego archipelago to their home port in Mar del Plata. The sub was scheduled to arrive at its destination Sunday.
The submarine was last spotted Wednesday in the San Jorge Gulf, a few hundred kilometers off the coast of southern Argentina’s Patagonia region and nearly midway between the bases.
As officials await word on the submarine, relatives of crew members gathered Saturday for Mass at a navy base in Mar del Plata, where they prayed for their safe return.
Southern Argentina’s Patagonia coast is notorious for strong storms.
“Currently a powerful low-pressure system is causing wind gusts in excess of 70 kph (nearly 45 mph) and churning up the South Atlantic Ocean with swells equivalent to a two-story building. This weather will hamper the search efforts for at least the next 48 hours,” CNN Meteorologist Derek Van Dam said.
The Argentine navy said it ordered “all terrestrial communication stations along the Argentine coast to carry out a preliminary and extended search of communications and to listen into all the possible frequencies of the submarine.”
Argentina’s military says the San Juan is a 65-meter long (213 ft) TR-1700 submarine, powered by one electric and four diesel egnines.
The US Navy said Saturday it ordered its Undersea Rescue Command based in San Diego to deploy to Argentina to help with the search.
The first rescue system – the submarine rescue chamber and an underwater, remotely operated vehicle – was flown from Miramar to Comodoro Rivadavia, Argentina, where it’s expected to arrive Sunday.
The second rescue system and supporting equipment will be transported using additional flights, and is scheduled to arrive in Argentina next week, the navy said in a statement.
The systems allow the safe underwater transfer of sailors from a submarine.
A P8-A Poseidon – a maritime, patrol and reconnaissance aircraft – has arrived in Argentina, along with a NASA P-3 Orion aircraft, the statement said. In another statement Sunday, the Navy said it was sending another P8-A Poseidon and 21 crew members to join the search effort.
The P-3 is a turboprop aircraft capable of long-duration flights, according to NASA.
Britain’s Royal Navy said its patrol ship the HMS Protector was also joining search and rescue efforts at the request of the Argentine government.
The ship was expected to arrive in the search area Sunday morning, it said.
CNN’s Ana Melgar, Steve Almasy, Flora Charner, Ivan Perez Sarmenti, Jason Hanna, Diane Ruggiero, Spencer Feingold and Marilia Brochetto contributed to this report.