Explosion Likely Killed Crew on Missing Argentine Submarine, Defense Minister Says

December 10, 2017 Updated: December 10, 2017

Argentina’s defense minister says that an explosion likely killed the 44 crew members of a submarine that went missing last month in the South Atlantic Ocean.

Defense Minister Oscar Aguad said that international nuclear agencies detected what appeared to be an explosion near where the submarine, the ARA San Juan, last went missing, CNN reported.

The Argentine military submarine ARA San Juan and crew are seen leaving the port of Buenos Aires, Argentina June 2, 2014. (Armada Argentina/Handout via REUTERS)

“You mean they’re all dead?”, the interviewer asked him. “Exactly,” Aguad responded.

Aguad added that the submarine’s maintenance may have been compromised. “We don’t have clear evidence but there are suspicions that point to corruption,” Aguad said.

Two German firms are accused of supplying low-quality parts to the Argentinian Navy, according to German media outlets Bayerischer Rundfunk and ARD.

Relatives and comrades of 44 crew members of the Argentine missing submarine, express their grief toward Argentina’s Navy base in Mar del Plata, on the Atlantic coast south of Buenos Aires, on Nov. 23, 2017. (EITAN ABRAMOVICH/AFP/Getty Images)

“There is a suspicion that the batteries that have been replaced were not of the quality that they should have been,” Cornelia Schmidt-Liermann, head of the foreign affairs committee of the Argentinian Parliament, told ARD.

And according to Reuters, dozens of relatives of the crew members of an Argentine submarine that went missing on Nov. 15 marched from a naval base on Sunday, demanding to know what happened and criticizing the government’s response to the tragedy.

Relatives of crew member Damian Tagliapietra express their grief outside Argentina’s Navy base in Mar del Plata, on the Atlantic coast south of Buenos Aires, on Nov. 24, 2017. (Eitan Abramovich/AFP/Getty Images)

Holding posters with photos of the crew and chanting “Search and Rescue!”, the family members walked away from a naval base in Mar del Plata, following a press conference during which the navy said the submarine had still not been located.

The disaster has spurred soul-searching over the state of the military in Argentina, which now has one of Latin America’s smallest defense budgets in relation to economic size after a series of financial crises.

“Our disagreement is with the government, not with the navy,” said Marcela Moyano, wife of crew member Hernán Rodríguez, during the protest. “Whoever is responsible needs to be held responsible.”

Spokesman Enrique Balbi said on Thursday the navy had abandoned hope of rescuing the crew alive, noting the ARA San Juan had air supplies for a week while 15 days had passed since it last reported its position.

Reuters contributed to this report.