BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Argentina's navy says Russia has ended its help in the search for an Argentine submarine that disappeared in the South Atlantic with 44 crew members aboard.
Russia was the last of more than a dozen foreign countries that assisted in searching some 1,500 square miles (4,000 square kilometers) of the South Atlantic for the ARA San Juan. The multinational search for the submarine employed some of the latest technology in one of the largest efforts of its kind.
An explosion occurred near the time and place where the sub went missing on Nov. 15. Argentina has given up hope of finding survivors, but the navy has continued searching for the vessel.
Argentine Navy spokesman Enrique Balbi confirmed the end of Russia's collaboration to The Associated Press late Tuesday. He said that that Russia's Yantar oceanographic research ship will return to the port of Buenos Aires on April 7, and the Argentine ship Islas Malvinas will carry on with the search.
Families of the crew gathered outside the Russian Embassy in Buenos Aires earlier this year asking Russia to continue searching for their loved ones with ships that carry remotely operated vehicles capable of deep seafloor searches.
"The Russians have withdrawn ... and the Argentine ships don't have the technology to find it," Luis Tagliapietra, the father of 27-year-old crew member Alejandro Tagliapietra, told the AP.
Tagliapietra has joined a judicial investigation into the sub's disappearance as a plaintiff. He said that other relatives of the crew are also asking Argentina's government to hire a private company based in Miami, Florida, to carry on with the deep-ocean search.
President Mauricio Macri has vowed a full investigation and offered a $5 million reward for information to find the vessel. Argentina is also probing whether there were irregularities in sub's midlife retrofitting that was carried out between 2008 and 2014.
But relatives of the crew say it's not enough.
"Our government is spinning its wheels," Tagliapietra said. "We're in a state of apathy."
The San Juan, a German-built TR-1700 class submarine, vanished as it was sailing from the southernmost port of Ushuaia to Mar del Plata after a patrol.
The navy says that the 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 sub 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.