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Noises detected in search for missing Argentine submarine

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Search vessels in the South Atlantic have picked up noises on their sonar that could be coming from the crew of an Argentine submarine missing for five days, the country's navy said Monday.

[MAR DEL PLATA, Argentina] Search vessels in the South Atlantic have picked up noises on their sonar that could be coming from the crew of an Argentine submarine missing for five days, the country's navy said Monday.

The news once again raised hopes for the 44 crew members aboard the ARA San Juan, after earlier apparent distress calls were dismissed as not coming from the stricken vessel.

The noises were detected some 360km offshore in the relatively shallow water at the edge of Argentina's continental shelf, Navy spokesman Enrique Balbi told reporters.

The noises sounded like tools being banged on the hull of a submarine to attract the attention of rescuers, CNN reported, citing an unnamed senior US navy official familiar with the international search effort.

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Mr Balbi said the position was in line with the course the submarine would have taken to reach its base in the northeastern city of Mar del Plata after reporting a breakdown last week and then going incommunicado.

"I don't want to create false expectations," Mr Balbi said.

A US Navy P-8A Poseidon plane was immediately dispatched to the site where the noises were detected by two Argentine ships.

The plane dropped sonar buoys into the sea to record the noises. Analysis of the recordings would take a few hours, Mr Balbi said.

"Now we have a point to concentrate the search, without neglecting the entire area of operations," said Mr Balbi, adding that two ships with multi-beam undersea probes were steaming towards the area.

A multinational air and sea search is under way with help from countries including Brazil, Britain, Chile, the United States and Uruguay.

'BREAKDOWN'

Earlier in the day, the navy said the San Juan, a German-built TR-1700class diesel-electric submarine launched in 1983, had reported a mechanical breakdown in its final communication last Wednesday.

The nature of the breakdown was not immediately clear. It was the first time the navy indicated it had been aware of a problem.

"The vessel surfaced and it reported a breakdown. It was therefore asked to change course and go to Mar del Plata," said Gabriel Galeazzi, the head of the naval base in the city, located 400km south of Buenos Aires.

Mr Balbi also told reporters that analysis has shown that seven signals received by naval bases over the weekend were not attempted distress calls from the submarine's satellite phone.

FALSE HOPE?

Monday's revelations were a blow to relatives of sailors aboard the sub, around 100 of whom are being housed at the Mar del Plata naval base as they await news of the crew.

"They have a lot of hope. The hours go by and the worry rate goes up. The best tranquiliser is accurate information," said Enrique Stein, a member of a psychological support unit set up for the families.

"We don't know anything. We are waiting with a great deal of anxiety," said Andrea Ali, wife of Franco Ali, an electrician aboard the San Juan.

The submarine's fate has gripped the nation, and President Mauricio Macri visited the relatives and prayed with them on Monday.

Mr Macri was briefed on the search during his visit to the base.

On Sunday, a flag was unfurled at the naval base that read: "Be strong Argentina, We trust in God, We wait for you."

At the Vatican, Argentine-born Pope Francis said he offered "his fervent prayer" for the safety of the submariners.

MULTINATIONAL RESCUE EFFORTS

Search efforts meanwhile have been hampered by inclement weather, including a powerful storm that has whipped up waves reaching 7m in height.

Rescuers are focusing on an ocean patch about 300km in diameter, radiating from the last point of contact.

US Southern Command has deployed the Poseidon patrol and reconnaissance plane with a crew of 21, as well as a NASA P-3 research aircraft, and other equipment and personnel.

The US Navy has deployed two unmanned underwater vehicles that use a sonar system to create an image of large sections of the sea floor.

Britain's Royal Navy said it had sent the HMS Protector, an Antarctic patrol ship.

The submarine had been returning from a routine mission to Ushuaia, near the southernmost tip of South America, to Mar del Plata.

It is one of three submarines in the Argentine fleet.

65m long and 7m wide, it was built by Germany's Thyssen Nordseewerke and launched in 1983.

It underwent a refit between 2007 and 2014 to extend its use by about 30 years.

AFP

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