Calamity on the San Juan

In memory of the 44 Submariners who were lost in ARA San Juan on 15th November 2017

From the Argentine Press

“Experts believe the Argentine submarine took on water in rough seas at the surface, causing a short circuit and setting up conditions for a later catastrophic explosion.”

Porcinus, Going Postal

Collated from various reports –

At 30 minutes after midnight on Nov. 15, sometime after resurfacing, the ship sent a report saying seawater came through the ventilation system and into contact with the batteries, “causing a short-circuit and the beginning of a fire in the batteries tray,” according to a transcript of the crew’s message.

Hours later, at 7:30 a.m., the submarine sent another report through a satellite phone that the crew had got the fire under control but lost use of the batteries in the ship’s bow.

That was the San Juan’s last communication.

My Conclusions

She was in an area of deep water and heavy seas. The crew would have been snorting every 24 hours or so, a tough way of life, coming to periscope depth, looking for drifting fishing vessels, pulling in air for the diesels through the snort induction mast in order to charge the batteries, then after 2 or 3 hours diving to safe depth.

It becomes routine to snort, sleep, eat, watch-keep, snort, sleep……until you have a problem, then the klaxon – three times and everyone is out of their pit, boots on waiting to hear the description – Fire, Flood …..these are the nightmares.

San Juan had a fire which in a small diesel boat, means the crew don their emergency breathing masks immediately. Ventilation is stopped but the atmosphere quickly becomes toxic and the smoke makes it difficult to see.

If dived, the submarine comes to safe depth, if the fire is serious, the submarine will surface using emergency blow. Which puts her on the surface rolling about like a bottle and vulnerable to collision.

San Juan is reported to have had a fire, which was put out and she may have re-started ventilation to clear the smoke, maybe have run diesels to pull the smoke into the engines and thereby clear the boat of the toxic air.

The batteries in a submarine are lead acid, just like a normal car battery but the cells are about 20cm square and 1500 cm high, each battery (San Juan had four) has over 100 cells in each tank which can create a fault current of thousands of amps, in the event of a short circuit.

Something happened, we know not what and she flooded, lost buoyancy and sank.

Unlike surface ships, submarines are designed to dive.

Even with her bulkhead doors shut, hull crush depth is at say 1000 metres (she went far beyond that), and her diesel fuel would compress and explode.

Forty four trained, highly skilled, unique, professional people lost in minutes.

As a submariner, I wondered whether to include the next bit – but I think the San Juan and her lost crew would appreciate that it is meant to lift the mood a bit –

A Submariner’s description of life in a Nuclear submarine that may bring a smile to the 44 lost spirits – With acknowledgement to the great Bob Newhart.

What’s that Walt, you’re going to be a submariner ?

What’s a submariner Walt ?

You live in a steel tube with about a 100 others ?

OK, and you shut all the hatches in the tube and the tube goes below the surface of the sea ?

Why would it do that Walt ?

To sink ships and launch missiles at the enemy ?

OK Walt, how do you breath in this tube ?

You extract oxygen from sea water and let it into the atmosphere of the tube ?

OK Walt, what do you drink ?

You purify sea water ?

Where do you poo Walt ?

You poo into a tank and when the tank’s full you blow it into the sea ?

OK Walt, so you go under the surface of the sea in a steel tube with about hundred people, how deep do you go Walt ?

About 600 feet or more ? Wow Walt it must be dark down there.

But you don’t have windows Walt ? So how do you see where you are going ?

You can’t see out Walt ? So you listen ? Sounds good Walt

OK Walt and how long do you stay in this tube under the surface ?

About 3 months ! Wow, Walt, 90 days in a steel tube with 100 people, 600 feet below the surface ?

OK Walt, one more question, where do you get your propulsion from for this tube ?

You what Walt…….., say that again…….., inside the tube with about 100 people, 600 feet below, you have a large Nuclear Reactor ?

Oh Walt, I need a cigarette.

Rest in Peace – Descansa en paz

Porcinus, Going Postal
 

© Porcinus 2018
 

Audio file