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Hope fades after 9 days of searching for Argentine submarine

Hope fades after 9 days of searching for Argentine submarine
From Reuters - November 24, 2017

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Families of the 44 crew members of a missing Argentine submarine gave up hope and went home on Friday after days of waiting at the subs Mar del Plata naval base, saddened and angered by evidence that the vessel may have exploded.

The submarine went missing nine days ago with only a one-week supply of oxygen onboard.

President Mauricio Macri said the search would continue and that he expected the submarine to be located in the days ahead. He called for a serious and deep investigation into the incident once the search operation was complete.

This means understanding how a submarine that had received midlife maintenance and was in perfect condition to navigate apparently suffered this explosion, he said at a news conference.

On Friday evening, navy spokesman Enrique Balbi said improving weather would allow for boats with underwater detection capabilities to conduct a search. They will scan an area around where a sound thought to be an explosion was detected on the morning of Nov. 15, the day the vessel sent its last signal.

The weather, thank God, is favorable in that search area for scanning and mapping the seabed, Balbi said at a news conference.

Macri and Balbi both declined to comment directly on the widely held fear that the crew had died.

The submarine, called the San Juan, was launched in 1983 and underwent maintenance in 2008 in Argentina.

FIERCE POLITICAL DEBATE

Concerns about the crews fate have set off a fierce political debate in a society sharply divided between supporters of Macri and his free-market policies and opposition Peronists.

Crew families have expressed outrage at the level of funding and maintenance of the armed forces, whose budget has gradually declined since the fall of a military dictatorship in the 1980s.

That trend continued during the first half of former populist President Cristina Fernandezs administration, before a slight rebound. Military funding has remained mostly flat since Macri took office in December 2015.

When Macri arrived in the presidency the destruction of the defense system was so complete that the first task was to restore morale, Senate leader and Macri ally Federico Pinedo said in a radio interview on Friday.

A group of opposition lawmakers aligned with Fernandez demanded that Defense Minister Oscar Aguad testify in Congress, and called for the creation of a congressional committee to investigate the incident.

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