An Argentinian flag with messages in support of the 44 crew members of the missing ARA San Juan submarine at the Mar del Plata naval base. Photo via Marcos Brindicci of Reuters.

The search for a missing Argentine submarine lost hundreds of miles from land with 44 crew members has intensified. The ARA San Juan was returning from Ushuaia, in the Southernmost province of Tierra del Fuego, on a routine mission when it reported an “electrical breakdown.”

Earlier this morning, the Argentine Navy demonstrated the suite of “international and national measures being deployed for the search and rescue of the ARA San Juan submarine,” via Twitter.

The submarine’s last communication was 7:30 a.m. on Nov. 15 in the gulf of San Jorge, southeast of the Valdés peninsula. Officials believe that the vessel’s communication system is defective; no satellite messages have been sent from the vessel. According to officials who spoke to La Nación, the submarine has provisions to last three times the duration of its trip, but its supply of oxygen should provide four or five additional days. Those conditions mean that the search is now entering a “critical phase”, according to the Argentine Navy. The vessel should have arrived to the port of Mar del Plata yesterday. However, due to the unfavorable weather conditions, there is a possibility that it had to slow its pace and it could reach its destination today.

Map of the search area. Graphic via the New York Times.
The southernmost bullet is Mar del Plata, the submarine’s destination. An international coalition is searching the area outlined in the map. Graphic via the New York Times.

“In normal conditions the air can be enough for a week, but it needs to be seen whether an incident has affected the submarine’s interior, like a fire,” said Horacio Tobías, a former crew member of the ARA San Juan. In an emergency, the submarine has protocols to ration air that can extend survival of the crew members.

A sound recently detected raised hopes that crew members were attempting to signal authorities of their position. However, on Nov. 20 an Argentine Navy spokesman Enrique Balbi said that the sound detected from the Atlantic was not from the missing submarine. Balbi told press that the signal was unlikely to have come from the German-built submarine.

“It does not correspond to a pattern that would be consistent with bangs against the walls in morse code,” Balbi said. He described whatever had been detected as “a continuous, constant sound.”

The poor conditions – including waves of up to six meters (nearly 20 feet) in height – have greatly hampered the search by making visibility on the surface difficult. Daniel Politi, the New York Times’ correspondent in Argentina, posted a video from the Argentine Navy depicting the poor weather conditions during the rescue.

President Mauricio Macri visited the Mar del Plata base on Monday. “I was at the Mar de Plata base to accompany and offer all of my help to the family members of the crew of ARA San Juan in these difficult hours. We will continue to deploy all of our available national and international resources to find them as soon as possible,” Macri wrote via Twitter.

The US Navy has deployed unmanned submarines and airplanes to the South Atlantic; two US air force planes landed in the southern coastal city of Comodoro Rivadavia on Nov. 19 with a rescue team which a mini sub, a submersible rescue vehicle and a remote control unmanned submersible equipped with video cameras. The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is also searching for the submarine.

“The P8 aircrafts from the US Navy and the House 295 of the Brazilian air force arriving now at the Comandante Espora air and navy base. Both are participating in this day of operations of the search for the ARA San Juan submarine,” the Argentine Navy wrote on Twitter.

The governments of Brazil, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Peru, Chile, Uruguay and Colombia are collaborating with the search. The Defense Ministry informed that, overall, there are “49 aerial and naval means taking part in the search.”

The wait is taking a toll on the relatives of the missing crew members. “Every day is leading us closer to a sad ending, regrettably,” Carlos Mendoza, brother of crew member Fernando Ariel Mendoza told Infobae website. “It’s sad, but we have to be realistic.”

On Monday evening, the army reported that 20 percent of the area in which the submarine could be has not yet been searched, but they are optimistic that better weather conditions today could bring a breakthrough.