Defense Minister Oscar Aguad appeared before the Congressional bicameral commission looking into the disappearance of the ARA San Juan yesterday, grilled by family members upset that the submarine has not been located in the five months since it last made contact.
For over nine hours, Aguad explained the details of the search effort and the submarine’s mission before it went missing while also facing criticism and calls for his resignation from anguished family members.
Yesterday marked the first time that Aguad appeared before the commission made up of senators and lawmakers tasked with looking into the disappearance. The commission is separate to the criminal investigation that is being headed up by a federal judge and the special panel of former ARA San Juan commanders that is looking into what may have happened to the submarine.
Commission Chair Senator José Ojeda (Bloque Justicialista – Tierra del Fuego) did not afford Aguad any privileges, allowing insistent questioning from the families in an often raucous meeting. Typically, only lawmakers are permitted to ask questions during Congressional sessions.
The San Juan and its 44 crew members last made contact on November 15, 2017 and an extensive multinational search has not turned up any concrete results.
A central concern for families has been the continuation of the search following the withdrawal of Russian and American technological support; yesterday Aguad confirmed that the government will fast track a contract with private companies that are specialized in underwater searches. The minister did not specify which company would be selected. The families have expressed frustration that the contract has not already been signed.
“It’s been five months, Minister Aguad. It’s a long time to wait, my son is in the sea, we’re waiting for him. The anguish and suffering are very great. I don’t want a tomb for my son at the bottom of the sea. We need answers. Because you are not fit for the job of minister, you are not fit to carry out the job” said Luisa Rodríguez, mother of one of the crew, directly at Aguad. President Mauricio Macri also came in for criticism from the family members.
Aguad also faced concerns from the families about the loss of WhatsApp data that included pictures and messages sent by the crew. The families also noted that accounts associated with the sailors logged out of WhatsApp groups at the same time, according to Letra P. Aguad promised to look into it.
Throughout the marathon session Aguad said that the government would not rest until it found the submarine, but noted that it was most likely that the San Juan had come to rest in an undersea canyon, with depths of up to 3,000 meters.
“Se barrió la zona de la Plataforma Continental Argentina y no hay duda de que no está ahí, por eso lo más probable es que haya caído en el talud, que tiene profundidades de hasta 3.000 metros y ahí están los cañadones profundos”, expone @OscarAguadCBA
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The minister once again denied that the submarine had been anywhere near the Malvinas Islands and said that when it left Ushuaia – the last time it was in port – the submarine was seaworthy.