BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Relatives of some of the 44 crew members aboard an Argentine submarine that went missing in the South Atlantic asked Russia on Monday to carry on with the search two months after the vessel disappeared.
An explosion occurred near the time and place where the ARA San Juan vanished Nov. 15. Argentina has given up hope of finding survivors, but the navy has continued hunting for the vessel.
Russia is now the last of 18 foreign country that have assisted the search in an area of some 1,500 square miles (4,000 square kilometers).
The Argentine navy says that it is looking for options, including hiring private companies, in case Russia withdraws.
Families of the crew gathered outside the Russian Embassy in Buenos Aires Monday and made a desperate plea to Russia, asking it to continue searching for their loved ones with ships that carry remotely operated vehicles capable of deep seafloor searches.
"We've come to thank Russia and ask that it doesn't withdraw. I have hope and faith that they're still floating there," said Antonio Niz, father of crew member Luis Niz.
The Russian government has not announced an end date for its assistance.
The German-built TR-1700 class submarine disappeared as it was sailing from the southernmost port of Ushuaia to Mar del Plata after a patrol.
The navy says that the vessel's captain reported on Nov. 15 that water entered the snorkel and caused one of the sub's batteries to short-circuit. The captain later communicated that it had been contained.
Some hours later, an explosion was detected near the time and place where the San Juan was last heard from. The navy says the blast could have been caused by a "concentration of hydrogen" triggered by the battery problem reported by the captain.
President Mauricio Macri has vowed a full investigation, and last month, the government dismissed the head of its navy as part of the probe into the disappearance.
But families and some experts say it's not enough, and some suggest the search should be widened.
"I suspect that it didn't sink but that it kept sailing, neither afloat nor sunk, and it was carried adrift with the current," said Alejandro Kalfayan, a merchant marine captain who specializes in the search of submerged objects. He suggested the search should focus instead some 100 to 200 nautical miles (185 to 370 kilometers) northeast of the current area.
Navy spokesman Enrique Balbi said that finding the submarine has been as "difficult as trying to find a 6-centimeter (2-inch) cigarette in a soccer field."
Family members and friends of the San Juan crew recently sent a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin asking him to support the search "until the very end."
Associated Press journalists Debora Rey and Leo La Valle contributed to this report.