ARA San Juan: All 44 Crew Members Feared Dead After Navy Reveals Argentine Submarine Could Have 'Exploded'

All 44 crew members on the missing Argentine submarine are feared dead after the navy confirmed an ‘explosion’ had been detected on the day the vessel disappeared.

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Relatives of the crew burst into tears, and some said they had lost all hope of rescue, after they were told about the suspected explosion.

Spokesman Enrique Balbi said the search will continue until there is full certainty about the fate of the ARA San Juan.

He said evidence showed "an anomalous event that was singular, short, violent and non-nuclear that was consistent with an explosion".

"According to this report, there was an explosion," Mr Balbi said. "We don't know what caused an explosion of these characteristics at this site on this date."

US and specialist agencies said the "hydro-acoustic anomaly" was produced just hours after the navy lost contact with the submarine on November 15.

The sub was originally scheduled to arrive on Monday at the Mar del Plata Navy Base, about 250 miles south-east of Buenos Aires. Relatives of the crew who have gathered at the base to receive psychological counselling broke into tears and hugged each other after they received the news.

Some clung to a fence crowded with blue-and-white Argentine flags, rosary beads and messages of support. Some declined to speak, while others lashed out in anger at the navy's response.

"They sent a piece of crap to sail," said Itati Leguizamon, wife of submarine crew member German Suarez. "They inaugurated a submarine with a coat of paint and a flag in 2014, but without any equipment inside. The navy is to blame for its 15 years of abandonment."

The German-built diesel-electric TR-1700 class submarine was commissioned in 1985 and was most recently refit in 2014.

During the 12 million US dollar retrofitting, the vessel was cut in half and had its engines and batteries replaced. Experts say that refits can be difficult because they involve integrating systems produced by different manufacturers and even the smallest mistake during the cutting phase of the operation can put the safety of the ship and the crew at risk.

The Argentine navy and outside experts have said that even if the ARA San Juan is intact, its crew might have only enough oxygen to be submerged seven to 10 days.