Argentina says abnormal noise heard after submarine’s last contact as hopes fade

Above, supportive messages for the 44 crew members of Argentine missing submarine hang outside Argentina’s Navy base in Mar del Plata. The clock is ticking down on hopes of finding alive the 44 crew members now missing for a week, amid fears their oxygen had run out.(AFP)
Updated 23 November 2017
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Argentina says abnormal noise heard after submarine’s last contact as hopes fade

MAR DELA PLATA, Argentina: Argentina’s navy said Wednesday it was investigating an unusual noise detected in the South Atlantic hours after it last communicated with a missing submarine, but refused to confirm whether it indicated an explosion.
The development came as the clock was ticking down on hopes of finding alive the 44 crew members now missing for a week despite a massive search of surface and seabed, amid fears their oxygen had run out.
The ARA San Juan would have had enough oxygen for its crew to survive underwater in the South Atlantic for seven days since its last contact, according to officials. At 0730 GMT Wednesday, that time had elapsed.
Navy spokesman Enrique Balbi told reporters a “hydro-acoustic anomaly” was detected in the ocean almost three hours after the last communication with the vessel on November 15, 30 miles (48 kilometers) north of its last known position.
Asked if the noise could have been an explosion, the spokesman declined to speculate, saying only: “It has to be corroborated and looked into.”
Balbi added: “We are in a very dangerous situation, and one that is getting worse.”
Information about the unusual noise became available Thursday after being relayed by the United States and “after all the information from all agencies reporting such hydroacoustic events was reviewed, Balbi explained.
“It would have been a very loud noise” and one that could have been an explosion, a former sub commander told AFP privately.
High seas and poor visibility in the South Atlantic have hampered the search since it began, around 200 miles (320 kilometers) off the Argentine coast. Waves have towered as high as six meters (20 feet).
The conditions have fed hopes that the vessel may be on the surface undetected.
Despite the mechanical problems it reported during its last contact last Wednesday, the crew could survive indefinitely if the sub retained the ability to rise to the surface to “snort” or replenish its air.
Conditions improved Tuesday, but the forecast for Thursday is once again poor.
The 34-year-old German-built diesel-electric submarine that was refitted between 2007 and 2014 had flagged a breakdown and said it was diverting to the navy base at Mar del Plata, where most of the crew members live.
It didn’t issue a distress call, however.
Jessica Gopar posted a moving letter to her husband, San Juan crewman Fernando Santilli, father of their one-year-old baby, on Facebook.
“Hi, Fernando. I don’t know if this finds you calm or desperate. Every day here becomes harder. There are moments of hope and great distress.”
“I am surrounded by family, your colleagues, acquaintances and friends, there is not moment that we do not pray for your rescue. Today has to be that day,” she wrote.
The sub’s disappearance has gripped the nation, and President Mauricio Macri visited the relatives — who have endured days of false hopes — and prayed with them.
US President Donald Trump offered his support Wednesday, tweeting: “May God be with them and the people of Argentina!“
Underwater sounds detected by two Argentine search ships were determined to originate from a sea creature, not the vessel.
Satellite signals were also determined to be false alarms.
“A light begins to shine, and then it goes out,” said Maria Morales, the mother of one of the missing sailors.
“There is a curtain of smoke, we don’t know anything,” said Elena Alfaro, whose brother is aboard the submarine.
“It doesn’t make sense that so much time has passed without anyone knowing anything,” she added.
“The hours go by. We’re hoping for a miracle. I don’t want to bury my brother, I want him with me. I feel he’ll come back, but I am aware of time passing.”
Argentina is leading an air-and-sea search with help from several countries including Brazil, Britain, Chile, Colombia, France, Germany, Peru, the United States and Uruguay.
The defense ministry said the search area could be expanded sevenfold, though it was already large.
The incident has recalled recent submarine disasters, perhaps most prominently that of the Kursk, a Russian nuclear sub that caught fire and exploded underwater in 2000, killing all 118 on board — some instantly, others over several days.
An accident aboard a Chinese sub in 2003 killed 70 crew, apparently suffocated after what Beijing termed “mechanical problems.”
Among the ARA San Juan’s crew is Argentina’s first female navy submariner: Eliana Krawczyk, 35.
Cards, banners with slogans and placards have been strung up on the outside of the Mar del Plata base’s wire fence, expressing solidarity with the families tensely waiting for any news.
“There’s a mix of feelings: pain, helplessness, at times hope,” Morales said.
“The feeling is that they will come back, that we will tell ourselves today, ‘They are back.’”


Thai child fighting culture sparks debate after 13-year-old’s death

Updated 3 min 41 sec ago
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Thai child fighting culture sparks debate after 13-year-old’s death

  • Centuries-old Muay Thai is the country’s de facto national sport and remains a source of immense pride
  • New research within Thailand suggests that the earlier Muay Thai boxers begin, the more prone they are to a range of injuries

BANGKOK: Thousands of child boxers compete in Thailand’s traditional martial art with dreams of belts, glory and prize money — but the death of a 13-year-old has lit up a sensitive debate over whether competitors start too young.
Centuries-old Muay Thai — known as the art of eight limbs for the different ways opponents can strike each other with knees, fists, kicks, and elbows — is the country’s de facto national sport and remains a source of immense pride.
But new research within Thailand suggests that the earlier Muay Thai boxers begin, the more prone they are to a range of injuries.
Lawmakers under the country’s military leaders have also drafted revamped legislation that would bar children under 12 from competing in the contact sport.
The push has gathered new momentum in light of the death of 13-year-old Anucha Tasako, who died from a brain hemorrhage after his similarly aged opponent struck him with multiple blows to the head at a Saturday charity fight near Bangkok.
Anger erupted on social media where footage of the critical moments of the bout was uploaded.
Deputy prime minister Prawit Wongsuwan instructed the sports ministry to review the legislation, which also requires parental consent for those between 12 and 15 and “physical safety measures.”
“The competitions must have appropriate, protective gear from the arena manager,” Prawit said according to a spokesperson.
It is common for Muay Thai fighters to start young and Anucha embarked on his career when he was eight years old.
He grew up in the northeastern province of Kalasin and after his parents parted ways, he spent time with a relative who had a Muay Thai gym.
Gripped by the sport, Anucha moved to Bangkok to stay with an uncle and train.
By the time he got to the charity match in Samut Prakan on Saturday he had fought 170 times, according to local media reports.
Critics point to alleged child exploitation as gamblers bet on bouts or promoters shave off prize money.
But it is the unseen health consequences that have received the most attention.
A five-year study from 2012 by the Child Safety Promotion and Injury Prevention Center at Ramathibodi Hospital carried out MRI scans on the brains of 335 child boxers and compared them with 252 non-boxers of the same ages.
Hospital director Adisak Plitponkarnpim said it was “clear” that child boxers suffered more brain cell damage and ruptures, and also had lower IQs.
“Their young age increases the damage because their skull and muscles are not yet fully developed.”
He said that accumulative injuries could put them at higher risk for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases as adults.
Coaches, gym owners and older fighters have mixed feelings about the draft legislation.
Thailand’s champions who have climbed out of Muay Thai and into success in western boxing circles also honed their skills as youngsters.
Wanheng Menayothin, the WBC minimumweight champion who surpassed Floyd Mayweather’s 50-0 record this year, moved to Bangkok at age 12 to train.
Tawee Umpornmaha also started fighting at 12 and went on to win a 1985 Olympic silver medal.
Some also feel the discussion around Muay Thai unfairly stigmatizes a sport that is easier to access for the South East Asian nation’s impoverished youth than more expensive sports such golf or tennis.
“For a lot of children, Muay Thai is a path out of poverty,” said a Muay Thai gym owner who did not want to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Besides giving children a sense of purpose, the owner said it also offers them “the chance to dream of a future far beyond the sport.”
The tensions are embodied in Anucha’s coach, Somsak Deerujijaroen, who runs a gym and trains his son.
“If the laws fully prevent child boxing, Thailand will not have Muay Thai masters. It will be the end of it. We will pass on the championships to foreigners,” he said at the funeral for Anucha, adding that rules on protective headgear for youth made more sense.
But he feels conflicted after the incident on Saturday and blames himself.
“I don’t want do the boxing gym anymore,” Somsak said, standing near Anucha’s coffin, where the young boxer’s favorite black-and-red boxing shorts were slung over a chair.
“One of my own kids who is eight years old has also been trained. But after this, I don’t want him to do it anymore.”