The world’s worst submarine disasters

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The Argentinian navy said an explosion occurred near the time and place where the submarine went missing on November 15, as it was sailing from the extreme southern port of Ushuaia to the coastal city of Mar del Plata.

That has led some of the crew’s family members, who had been gathered at the naval base awaiting news of the search, to give up hope of a rescue.


The implosion of a submarine that falls deeper than its “crush depth” would make such a sound, according to one former US navy captain

The sound originated about 30 miles north of the submarine’s last registered position.

Naval experts say that oxygen for the crew would last only seven to 10 days if the sub were intact but submerged. If the boat had replenished its oxygen supply before diving, this would affect the calculation.

ARA San Juan (S-42)

It is a TR-1700-class diesel-electric submarine in service with the Argentine Navy as part of the Argentine Submarine Force. The submarine was built in West Germany and entered service on 19 November 1985. San Juan underwent a mid-life update from 2008 to 2013.

On 15 November 2017, San Juan stopped communicating during a routine patrol in the South Atlantic off the coast of Argentina. A multi-nation search operation was mounted to try to locate the submarine, which was believed to have suffered an electrical malfunction. Within hours of San Juans last transmission, reports describe an explosive noise, detected in the vicinity of the vessel’s last known location.

Five major submarine disasters

Russia’s Kursk, 118 dead

  • In August 2000, Russia’s northern fleet nuclear submarine Kursk catches fire and explodes underwater while conducting war games.
  • Russian authorities controversially refuse help from British and Norwegian naval vessels, and all 118 sailors on board the submarine are killed.
  • Most die instantly but some survive for several days — with a few keeping heart-breaking diaries written in blood to their loved ones — before suffocating.
  • It is the Russian navy’s worst-ever disaster.

Chinese navy, all 70 killed

  • Seventy Chinese naval officers and crew are killed, apparently suffocated, in an accident on a Ming-class submarine conducting exercises east of the Neichangshan islands in May 2003.
  • State media says the military was examining human error as a cause, including the mistaken shutting off of crucial exhaust valves, and the possibility of a chemical gas leak.
  • The government says only there were “mechanical problems”.

Fire on Soviet vessel, 42 die

  • In April 1989, a fire following a short circuit breaks out on board a Soviet nuclear submarine, the Komsomolets, as it is in international waters 500 kilometres (310 miles) from Norway.
  • The crew is not able to put out the fire and quickly brings the vessel to the surface. Dozens dive into the glacial waters to escape, only a few taking to lifeboats.
  • Some drown but most of the 42 dead are taken down in the submarine when it sinks. Twenty-seven people survive.

Gas on a Russian sub kills 20

  • The fire extinguishing system of a Russian nuclear Nerpa submarine is accidentally activated in November 2008, releasing a poisonous gas that kills 20 people, including three naval officers and 17 civilians.
  • Another 21 people are injured in the accident, which happens as the high-speed attack submarine is being tested in the Sea of Japan.

Indian explosion, all 18 die

  • The fully armed Russian-built Indian INS Sindhurakshak submarine explodes in a fireball in Mumbai harbour shortly after midnight in August 2013 and sinks.
  • All 18 sailors onboard are killed. The fierce temperatures generated in the fire ignited some of the weapons on board, such as cruise missiles and torpedoes.
  • The disaster came soon after the vessel had been returned by Russia following a major refit.

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