“Let’s pray together for everything to be resolved and for nothing to have happened to anyone in the crew,” he said. “In the sea, they’re all brothers. It’s not like a boat that sails on the surface. Submarines have greater risks.”

The rescue mission on Friday included two ships, the destroyer ARA Sarandi, which has a helicopter onboard, and the corvette ARA Rosales. Argentine officials also asked civilian vessels in the area to monitor for possible radio signals from the submarine.

Navy officials attempted to downplay the situation after local news outlets broke news of the search early Friday morning.

“We are not talking about an emergency right now, but rather we are handling it as a loss of communication with the submarine,” Rear Adm. Gabriel Martín González, who oversees submarine crews, told reporters gathered outside the naval base in Mar del Plata.

Relatives of the crew expressed alarm, however.

“We don’t know anything, we’re totally desperate,” Cristina Gallardo, whose brother, Javier Gallardo, is a crew member, told a Mar del Plata radio station, Radio Brisas. “The only thing they’re telling us is that they’re still searching for the submarine.”

According to protocol, submarines that lose the ability to communicate must surface, Captain Balbi, the Navy spokesman, said. If the ARA San Juan managed to do that, its crew could survive for weeks.

Captain Balbi said it was not known if whether the vessel had surfaced. Submarines can travel underwater for a couple of days, he said, before needing to surface so its diesel engines can recharge its batteries.

The Argentine Navy purchased the ARA San Juan, a German-made submarine, in 1985.

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