Hope fades after 9 days of searching for Argentine submarine

BUENOS AIRES, Nov 24 (Reuters) - Families of the 44 crew members of a missing Argentine submarine gave up hope and went home on Friday after days of waiting at the sub's Mar del Plata naval base, saddened and angered by evidence that the vessel may have exploded.

The submarine went missing nine days ago with only a one-week supply of oxygen onboard.

President Mauricio Macri said the search would continue and that he expected the submarine to be located in the days ahead. He called for a "serious and deep" investigation into the incident once the search operation was complete.

RELATED: Missing Argentine military submarine the San Juan

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Missing Argentine military submarine ARA San Juan
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Missing Argentine military submarine ARA San Juan
The Argentine military submarine ARA San Juan and crew are seen leaving the port of Buenos Aires, Argentina June 2, 2014. Picture taken on June 2, 2014. Armada Argentina/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
A crew member of the Argentine military submarine ARA San Juan stands on the vessel at the port of Buenos Aires, Argentina June 2, 2014. Picture taken on June 2, 2014. Armada Argentina/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
The Argentine military submarine ARA San Juan and crew are seen leaving the port of Buenos Aires, Argentina June 2, 2014. Picture taken on June 2, 2014. Armada Argentina/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
Photo released on November 17, 2017 by Telam showing the A.R.A. San Juan submarine being delivered to the Argentine Navy after being repaired at the Argentine Naval Industrial Complex (CINAR) in Buenos Aires, on May 23, 2014. The Argentine submarine is missing in Argentine waters after it lost communication more than 48 hours ago. / AFP PHOTO / TELAM / ALEJANDRO MORTIZ / Argentina OUT (Photo credit should read ALEJANDRO MORTIZ/AFP/Getty Images)
A crew member of the Argentine military submarine ARA San Juan stands on the vessel at the port of Buenos Aires, Argentina June 2, 2014. Picture taken on June 2, 2014. Armada Argentina/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
Ships are seen at an Argentine Naval Base, where the missing-at-sea ARA San Juan submarine sailed from, in Mar del Plata, Argentina November 18, 2017. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci
Picture released by TELAM showing Mar� Morales (L) mother of submarinist Luis Garcia, accompnied by an unidentified man at the entrance of Argentina's Navy base in Mar del Plata, on the Atlantic coast south of Buenos Aires, on November 18, 2017. Argentina's navy is hunting for one of its submarines which has been reported missing in the South Atlantic with a crew of 44 on board. / AFP PHOTO / TELAM / Alejandro MORITZ / Argentina OUT / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT 'AFP PHOTO / TELAM / ALEJANDRO MORITZ' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS (Photo credit should read ALEJANDRO MORITZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Picture released by TELAM showing unidentified people gathering at the entrance of Argentina's Navy base in Mar del Plata, on the Atlantic coast south of Buenos Aires, on November 17, 2017. Argentina's navy is hunting for one of its submarines which has been reported missing in the South Atlantic with a crew of 44 on board. / AFP PHOTO / TELAM / Alejandro MORITZ / Argentina OUT / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT 'AFP PHOTO / TELAM / ALEJANDRO MORITZ' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS (Photo credit should read ALEJANDRO MORITZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Photo released on November 17, 2017 by Telam showing the A.R.A. San Juan submarine being delivered to the Argentine Navy after being repaired at the Argentine Naval Industrial Complex (CINAR) in Buenos Aires, on May 23, 2014. The Argentine submarine is missing in Argentine waters after it lost communication more than 48 hours ago. / AFP PHOTO / TELAM / ALEJANDRO MORTIZ / Argentina OUT (Photo credit should read ALEJANDRO MORTIZ/AFP/Getty Images)
A man reacts outside the Argentine Naval Base, where the missing at sea ARA San Juan submarine sailed from, in Mar del Plata, Argentina November 21, 2017. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A heart formed with stripes with the colours of Argentina's national flag hangs from a fence outside the Argentine Naval Base in Mar del Plata, Argentina November 21, 2017. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Navy crew work aboard the ARA Sarandi destroyer before leaving to take part in the search for the ARA San Juan submarine missing at sea at the Argentine Naval Base in Mar del Plata, Argentina November 21, 2017. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci
A woman walks past an Argentine national flag hanging from a fence outside the Argentine Naval Base in Mar del Plata, Argentina November 21, 2017. Words on the flag read "We are with you". REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci
Navy crew work aboard the ARA Sarandi destroyer before leaving to take part in the search for the ARA San Juan submarine missing at sea at the Argentine Naval Base in Mar del Plata, Argentina November 21, 2017. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci
The ARA Sarandi destroyer is seen before leaving to take part in the search for the ARA San Juan submarine missing at sea at the Argentine Naval Base in Mar del Plata, Argentina November 21, 2017. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci
Argentine Navy captain Gabriel Galeazzi looks on after a news conference at the Argentine Naval Base in Mar del Plata, Argentina November 21, 2017. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci
Malvina Vallejos, sister of missing submariner Celso Oscar Vallejos hangs a supportive message for the 44 crew members of Argentine missing submarine outside Argentina's Navy base in Mar del Plata, on the Atlantic coast south of Buenos Aires, on November 21, 2017. An international search mission for the missing Argentine ARA San Juan submarine entered its sixth day Tuesday as uncertainty over the fate of its 44 crew members gave way to rising anguish for families troubled by earlier false hopes. / AFP PHOTO / EITAN ABRAMOVICH (Photo credit should read EITAN ABRAMOVICH/AFP/Getty Images)
Malvina Vallejos, sister of missing submariner Celso Oscar Vallejos speaks outside Argentina's Navy base in Mar del Plata, on the Atlantic coast south of Buenos Aires, on November 21, 2017. An international search mission for the missing Argentine ARA San Juan submarine entered its sixth day Tuesday as uncertainty over the fate of its 44 crew members gave way to rising anguish for families troubled by earlier false hopes. / AFP PHOTO / EITAN ABRAMOVICH (Photo credit should read EITAN ABRAMOVICH/AFP/Getty Images)
People pray at the entrance of Argentina's Navy base in Mar del Plata, on the Atlantic coast south of Buenos Aires, on November 21, 2017, after being refueled to take part in the search of missing submarine ARA San Juan A man . An Argentine submarine has been lost in the South Atlantic for five days now with 44 people aboard. An international search mission for the missing Argentine ARA San Juan submarine entered its sixth day Tuesday as uncertainty over the fate of its 44 crew members gave way to rising anguish for families troubled by earlier false hopes. / AFP PHOTO / EITAN ABRAMOVICH (Photo credit should read EITAN ABRAMOVICH/AFP/Getty Images)
A man prays at the entrance of Argentina's Navy base in Mar del Plata, on the Atlantic coast south of Buenos Aires, on November 21, 2017, after being refueled to take part in the search of missing submarine ARA San Juan A man . An Argentine submarine has been lost in the South Atlantic for five days now with 44 people aboard. An international search mission for the missing Argentine ARA San Juan submarine entered its sixth day Tuesday as uncertainty over the fate of its 44 crew members gave way to rising anguish for families troubled by earlier false hopes. / AFP PHOTO / EITAN ABRAMOVICH (Photo credit should read EITAN ABRAMOVICH/AFP/Getty Images)
People pray at the entrance of Argentina's Navy base in Mar del Plata, on the Atlantic coast south of Buenos Aires, on November 21, 2017. An international search mission for the missing Argentine ARA San Juan submarine entered its sixth day Tuesday as uncertainty over the fate of its 44 crew members gave way to rising anguish for families troubled by earlier false hopes. / AFP PHOTO / EITAN ABRAMOVICH (Photo credit should read EITAN ABRAMOVICH/AFP/Getty Images)
A man waits in front outside Argentina's Navy base in Mar del Plata, on the Atlantic coast south of Buenos Aires, on November 21, 2017. Argentina's navy revealed Monday that a submarine missing for five days reported a mechanical breakdown in its final communication, and that weekend signals did not come from the vessel, dimming hopes for its 44 crew members. / AFP PHOTO / EITAN ABRAMOVICH (Photo credit should read EITAN ABRAMOVICH/AFP/Getty Images)
An Argentinian flag painted with a submarine is dislpayed as supportive message for the 44 crew members of Argentine missing submarine outside Argentina's Navy base in Mar del Plata, on the Atlantic coast south of Buenos Aires, on November 21, 2017. Argentina's navy revealed Monday that a submarine missing for five days reported a mechanical breakdown in its final communication, and that weekend signals did not come from the vessel, dimming hopes for its 44 crew members. / AFP PHOTO / EITAN ABRAMOVICH (Photo credit should read EITAN ABRAMOVICH/AFP/Getty Images)
Argentina's Navy destroyer ARA Sarandi sails off to take part in the search of missing submarine ARA San Juan, from the north breakwater of Argentina's Navy base in Mar del Plata, on the Atlantic coast south of Buenos Aires, on November 21, 2017. An international search mission for a missing Argentine submarine entered its sixth day Tuesday as uncertainty over the fate of its 44 crew members gave way to rising anguish for families troubled by earlier false hopes. / AFP PHOTO / EITAN ABRAMOVICH (Photo credit should read EITAN ABRAMOVICH/AFP/Getty Images)
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"This means understanding how a submarine that had received midlife maintenance and was in perfect condition to navigate apparently suffered this explosion," he said at a news conference.

On Friday evening, navy spokesman Enrique Balbi said improving weather would allow for boats with underwater detection capabilities to conduct a search. They will scan an area around where a sound thought to be an explosion was detected on the morning of Nov. 15, the day the vessel sent its last signal.

"The weather, thank God, is favorable in that search area for scanning and mapping the seabed," Balbi said at a news conference.

Macri and Balbi both declined to comment directly on the widely held fear that the crew had died.

The submarine, called the San Juan, was launched in 1983 and underwent maintenance in 2008 in Argentina.

FIERCE POLITICAL DEBATE

Concerns about the crew's fate have set off a fierce political debate in a society sharply divided between supporters of Macri and his free-market policies and opposition Peronists.

Crew families have expressed outrage at the level of funding and maintenance of the armed forces, whose budget has gradually declined since the fall of a military dictatorship in the 1980s.

That trend continued during the first half of former populist President Cristina Fernandez's administration, before a slight rebound. Military funding has remained mostly flat since Macri took office in December 2015.

SEE ALSO: Possible explosion detected near missing Argentine sub's last known location

"When Macri arrived in the presidency the destruction of the defense system was so complete that the first task was to restore morale," Senate leader and Macri ally Federico Pinedo said in a radio interview on Friday.

A group of opposition lawmakers aligned with Fernandez demanded that Defense Minister Oscar Aguad testify in Congress, and called for the creation of a congressional committee to investigate the incident.

Araceli Ferreyra, a lawmaker with the leftist Evita Movement, wrote on Facebook that she was concerned about "suppression of information" by the navy early on in the search.

Local news media have reported tensions between the navy and Macri's administration over lack of timely communication, which both sides have publicly denied.

Marta Yanez, a federal judge from the Patagonian city of Caleta Olivia, also began an investigation into the incident at the request of the navy.

'NO HOPE'

The information about the possible explosion came on Thursday from the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty Organization, an international body that runs a global network of listening posts designed to check for secret atomic blasts. Those posts had detected the "violent, non-nuclear" sound.

Around 30 boats and planes and 4,000 people from 13 countries including Argentina, the United States, Britain, Chile and Brazil have joined the search for the submarine, which last transmitted its location about 480 km (300 miles) from Argentina's South Atlantic coast.

A Russian plane was due to arrive in Argentina on Friday night carrying search equipment capable of reaching 6,000 meters (20,000 ft) below the sea surface, Balbi said.

Relatives of the crew had arrived at Mar de Plata on Monday, filled with an optimism that had all but disappeared by Friday.

"At this point, the truth is I have no hope that they will come back," Maria Villareal, mother of one crew member, told local television on Friday morning.

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RHU, SCOTLAND - JANUARY 20: Able Seaman Smith and Able Seaman Davies in their Bunkspace on HMS Vigilant, submarine on January 20, 2016 in Rhu, Scotland. HMS Vigilant is one of the UK's fleet of four Vanguard class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines carrying the Trident nuclear missile system. A decision on when to hold a key Westminster vote on renewing Trident submarine class is yet to be decided senior Whitehall sources have admitted. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
RHU, SCOTLAND - JANUARY 20: Royal Navy security personnel stand guard on HMS Vigilant at Her Majesty's Naval Base, Clyde on January 20, 2016 in Rhu, Scotland. HMS Vigilant is one of the UK's fleet of four Vanguard class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines carrying the Trident nuclear missile system. A decision on when to hold a key Westminster vote on renewing Trident submarine class is yet to be decided senior Whitehall sources have admitted. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
RHU, SCOTLAND - JANUARY 20: Lieutenant Alexandra Olsson in the control room on HMS Vigilant, submarine on January 20, 2016 in Rhu, Scotland. HMS Vigilant is one of the UK's fleet of four Vanguard class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines carrying the Trident nuclear missile system. A decision on when to hold a key Westminster vote on renewing Trident submarine class is yet to be decided senior Whitehall sources have admitted. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
RHU, SCOTLAND - JANUARY 20: Royal Navy personnel respond to a fire in a control room of a Vanguard Class ship simulator at Her Majesty's Naval Base, Clyde on January 20, 2016 in Rhu, Scotland. HMS Vigilant is one of the UK's fleet of four Vanguard class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines carrying the Trident nuclear missile system. A decision on when to hold a key Westminster vote on renewing Trident submarine class is yet to be decided senior Whitehall sources have admitted. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
RHU, SCOTLAND - JANUARY 20: Lieutenant Benson and WOZ Firth in the missile compartments on HMS Vigilant, submarine on January 20, 2016 in Rhu, Scotland. HMS Vigilant is one of the UK's fleet of four Vanguard class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines carrying the Trident nuclear missile system. A decision on when to hold a key Westminster vote on renewing Trident submarine class is yet to be decided senior Whitehall sources have admitted. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
RHU, SCOTLAND - JANUARY 20: WOZ Johnston in the weapons room on HMS Vigilant, submarine on January 20, 2016 in Rhu, Scotland. HMS Vigilant is one of the UK's fleet of four Vanguard class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines carrying the Trident nuclear missile system. A decision on when to hold a key Westminster vote on renewing Trident submarine class is yet to be decided senior Whitehall sources have admitted. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
RHU, SCOTLAND - JANUARY 20: WOZ Gray makes his way through a hatch on HMS Vigilant, submarine on January 20, 2016 in Rhu, Scotland. HMS Vigilant is one of the UK's fleet of four Vanguard class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines carrying the Trident nuclear missile system. A decision on when to hold a key Westminster vote on renewing Trident submarine class is yet to be decided senior Whitehall sources have admitted. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
RHU, SCOTLAND - JANUARY 20: Surgeon Lieutenant Tweed poses in the sickbay on HMS Vigilant, submarine on January 20, 2016 in Rhu, Scotland. HMS Vigilant is one of the UK's fleet of four Vanguard class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines carrying the Trident nuclear missile system. A decision on when to hold a key Westminster vote on renewing Trident submarine class is yet to be decided senior Whitehall sources have admitted. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
RHU, SCOTLAND - JANUARY 20: Chef Sewell prepares a curry in the Galley on HMS Vigilant, submarine on January 20, 2016 in Rhu, Scotland. HMS Vigilant is one of the UK's fleet of four Vanguard class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines carrying the Trident nuclear missile system. A decision on when to hold a key Westminster vote on renewing Trident submarine class is yet to be decided senior Whitehall sources have admitted. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
RHU, SCOTLAND - JANUARY 20: Junior rates relax in the mess playing a playstation on HMS Vigilant, submarineon January 20, 2016 in Rhu, Scotland. HMS Vigilant is one of the UK's fleet of four Vanguard class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines carrying the Trident nuclear missile system. A decision on when to hold a key Westminster vote on renewing Trident submarine class is yet to be decided senior Whitehall sources have admitted. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
RHU, SCOTLAND - JANUARY 20: Junior rates relax in the mess playing Vickers on HMS Vigilant, submarine on January 20, 2016 in Rhu, Scotland. HMS Vigilant is one of the UK's fleet of four Vanguard class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines carrying the Trident nuclear missile system. A decision on when to hold a key Westminster vote on renewing Trident submarine class is yet to be decided senior Whitehall sources have admitted. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
RHU, SCOTLAND - JANUARY 20: STD Skinner poses in the Wardroom on HMS Vigilant, submarine on January 20, 2016 in Rhu, Scotland. HMS Vigilant is one of the UK's fleet of four Vanguard class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines carrying the Trident nuclear missile system. A decision on when to hold a key Westminster vote on renewing Trident submarine class is yet to be decided senior Whitehall sources have admitted. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
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Others said they would remain at Mar del Plata.

"I'm at the base and I'm going to stay until they find the submarine," Silvina Krawczyk, sister of the sub's only female officer, Eliana Maria Krawczyk, told Reuters through the WhatsApp messaging application.

Some family members accused the navy of putting their loved ones at unnecessary risk by sending them out in a more than 30-year-old vessel that they suspected was not properly maintained, an accusation the navy has denied.

"They killed my brother!" a man leaving the base in a car shouted out to reporters. The older man driving the car was crying.

(Additional reporting by Walter Bianchi in Mar del Plata and Maximiliano Rizzi, Nicolas Misculin and Eliana Raszewski in Buenos Aires; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Rosalba O'Brien)

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