BUENOS AIRES — The crew of a missing Argentine military submarine tried contacting naval bases seven times, Argentina’s Defense Ministry said.
The calls were made on Saturday to different bases between 10:52 a.m. and 3:42 p.m. and ranged from four to 36 seconds long, the ministry said in a statement to CNN en Español. No communication connection was made.
The navy said the military is working with a US-based company that specializes in satellite communication to determine the location of the submarine, which has been missing for more than three days.
The ARA San Juan submarine and the 44 crew members were traveling through the Atlantic Ocean from a base in far southern Argentina’s Tierra del Fuego archipelago to its home port in Mar del Plata. The vessel had been due to arrive at its destination Sunday.
The submarine was last spotted Wednesday in the San Jorge Gulf, a few hundred kilometers off the coast of southern Argentina’s Patagonia region and nearly midway between the bases.
News of the search struck a chord in the Vatican. Pope Francis, an Argentina native and a former archbishop of Buenos Aires, offered his “fervent prayers for the 44 officers aboard the ARA San Juan” in a message released on his behalf Saturday by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state.
Francis encouraged efforts to find the vessel and “asks that his closeness be conveyed to their families and to the military and civil authorities of the country in these difficult moments,” the message reads.
The Argentine navy said it ordered “all terrestrial communication stations along the Argentine coast to carry out a preliminary and extended search of communications and to listen into all the possible frequencies of the submarine.”
Argentina’s military says the San Juan is a 65-meter long (213 ft) TR-1700 submarine, powered by one electric and four diesel egnines.
The ship was built in Germany and launched in the early 1980s, receiving a refit in Argentina in 2007, according to the World Heritage Encyclopedia, which says the San Juan is armed with six torpedo tubes can dive to 300 meters.
The US Navy said it was helping in the search. A P8-A Poseidon maritime aircraft was already in Argentina, the US Naval Forces Southern Command said in a statement.
The Navy also ordered its Undersea Rescue Command based in San Diego to deploy two independent rescue assets. Three U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III and one U.S. Air Force C-5 Galaxy aircraft were to transport the first rescue system, the Submarine Rescue Chamber and underwater intervention Remotely Operated Vehicle from Miramar to Comodoro Rivadavia, Argentina, the statement said. The four aircraft were scheduled to depart Miramar Saturday and arrive in Argentina Sunday.
The second rescue system, the Pressurized Rescue Module and supporting equipment will be transported on additional flights, the statement added. It was scheduled to arrive in Argentina early next week.
The 21-person US crew had been in El Salvador supporting “counter-illicit trafficking patrol operations,” the agency said in a statement. The aircraft also had assisted in a search for a South Korean ship that sank in April in the South Atlantic, and more recently, it was sent to Dominica in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
NASA will help in the search with a P-3 Orion aircraft, agency spokeswoman Katherine Brown told CNN. She said the US plane was “already in Argentina on a scientific mission.”
The P-3 is a turboprop aircraft capable of long-duration flights, according to NASA.
Britain’s Royal Navy said its patrol ship the HMS Protector was also joining search and rescue efforts at the request of the Argentine government.
“HMS Protector is the Royal Navy’s ice patrol ship, and is equipped with sonar equipment which can search beneath the waves,” the Royal Navy said in a statement.
The ship was expected to arrive in the search area Sunday morning, it said.
“We are currently making best speed towards the search area to provide assistance as quickly as we can,” the ship’s commanding officer, Capt. Angus Essenhigh, said.
“We stand prepared to help with the search and rescue efforts and my team on board are trained to deal with this task. They are working hard to ensure we are ready to begin search operations as soon as we arrive.”