The Cost of Death

An Argentine submarine that was lost in the Atlantic Ocean one year ago, along with 44 crew members, has been found—but many are devastated to hear that the government does not have the technological means to recover it.

One year ago, an Argentine submarine was lost 430 kilometers off the coast of Argentina. The ocean-mapping company Ocean Infinity found the submarine sunk deep under the sea a year later, on November 16, 2018. This discovery of what was believed to be lost forever has led to a re-ignition of discussion and controversy regarding the submarine—and more importantly, of the government’s recent announcement of its inability to retrieve it.

The submarine, named the San Juan, malfunctioned during particularly stormy weather while at sea. It consequently exploded, taking 44 sailors with it as it spiraled down into the depths of the Atlantic Ocean. At the time, many fingers were pointed at the Argentine government and its inadequate military maintenance as to the cause of the tragedy. After the government supposed the sailors that were aboard the San Juan were dead, their grieved and outraged families admonished the carelessness of the government in the management of their military equipment, causing the international community to condemn it as well. However, after one year, the glaring spotlight of blame on the government had somewhat abated.

The recent discovery has brought it back full force.

When the sunken submarine was discovered only a few days ago, the Argentine government announced that there was no way that, with the current technology that the government possessed, that the submarine could be retrieved. This caused a torrent of protests concerning the government’s role to provide sufficient closure of the incident to its citizens, especially to the families who had lost their loved ones in the accident. Yolanda Mendiola, a mother of one of the missing sailors, Leandro Cisneros, expressed her frustration and anger at the government’s announcement. “They are going to show us the photos… We are destroyed here,” she said. “If we don’t see it [the submarine], we can’t have closure.”

The families have demanded numerous actions from the government, including an independent investigation focusing on salvaging the remains of the San Juan. These demands were only intensified when an anonymous naval officer leaked that: “Raising the submarine to the surface is not impossible, but it is a very complex operation, and therefore very expensive.” Many people are starting to question whether the government was right in declaring a situation hopeless so early into the re-invigorated investigation. Thankfully, officials stated that they would release a report next week regarding more of the technical details of what happened to the submarine and its 44 passengers.

Regardless of whether the submarine will be recovered or not, the discovery has had its emotional toll on the grieving families. Contrary to those who still feel an emptiness in their hearts that, they claim, can only be filled by seeing the remains of the sunken submarine with their own eyes, there are those who believe that the discovery of the San Juan nearly 830 meters underneath the sea has finalized the deaths of their loved ones and has brought closure enough. María Itatí Leguizamón, the 33-year-old wife of a radio operator who was aboard the San Juan, said, “There was a part of me that kept holding on to the hope that he could still be alive. But now I know for sure and I can mourn.”

All eyes are on the families and the Argentine government as they struggle to find a compromise between a clash of overwhelming emotions and practicality. But no matter what the outcome, the fate of the San Juan and its 44 sailors will haunt the international community for decades to come as a reminder of the suddenness and unpredictability of death, all contingent upon a single malfunctioning wire.

– Lauren Cho (’22)

Featured Image: Getty Images

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