Sky Views: Missing sub brings old foes together

Sky Views: Missing sub brings old foes together

Amid the desperate search for Argentina's missing submarine last week, there was one small positive development that went largely unnoticed because of more important events at sea.

Amid the desperate search for Argentina's missing submarine last week, there was one small positive development that went largely unnoticed because of more important events at sea.

It was Bueno Aires' acceptance of help from London. With no mention or thought to the past, the two old foes worked together to find the 44 missing men and women.

The 1910 Brussels Convention on Assistance at Sea holds that: "Every master is bound, so far as he can do so without serious danger to his vessel, her crew and passengers, to render assistance to everybody, even though an enemy, found at sea in danger of being lost."

The UK's help wasn't just a token fulfilment of that, rather the contribution was, by my calculation, at least as great - if not greater - than anybody else's.

By day seven of the search, the British deployment was substantial by any measure.

It included HMS Protector, HMS Clyde, a C-130 Hercules, the Royal Navy's Submarine Rescue Assistance Team, an RAF refuelling tanker and the offer of Mount Pleasant Airfield on the Falklands as a base for any aircraft involved in the search.

 

On Wednesday, an RAF Voyager aircraft landed in Argentina carrying three tons of equipment including deep emergency life support store pods - it was reported as the first time an RAF plane had flown to the country at least since the Falklands War.

The accompanying photographs of Argentinian Air Force officers greeting the British pilots went viral.

The pick-up for what were otherwise rather unmemorable pictures reflected the global fascination in this sad story.

On Twitter, I must have received hundreds of responses to my tweets from Argentines thanking Britain (not me!) for its help in the search.

Sure, there were the predictable few, from either side, whose opinions remained rooted in the ill-feeling of history, but they were rare and either ignored or dismissed by other Twitter users.

Throughout this the British Government remained relatively muted, limiting their public announcements to a few carefully worded MoD press releases. Privately, they were happy to brief journalists on the search's progress, but there was a very deliberate attempt to avoid overpromoting Britain's help which would have risked embarrassing Argentina.

"We were trying to be respectful," an MoD source explained.

Surprisingly perhaps, relations between the two militaries are not all that bad - so much so that, a few years ago, a former chief of the air staff even went skiing with his Argentine counterpart.

But politics have tended to shape the impression in recent years and strong nationalistic statements on the Falklands have proved all too easy and tempting for any Argentinian leader in domestic trouble.

Politics has been rightly absent during this incident - so much so that Oscar Aguad, Argentina's defence minister, visited the search headquarters recently and personally thanked the UK personnel involved.

Although not yet confirmed, I think we must now assume the submarine suffered an explosion and all on board died with it.

In the coming days the international search mission will scale down and the formality of funerals and public mourning will begin in Argentina.

The episode hasn't been favourable to the country's armed forces which are clearly in need of modernising - but if the diplomatic legacy of this tragedy is a softening of relations between the UK and Argentina, and perhaps even in time some joint defence co-operation, then the ARA San Juan's dreadful fate will have achieved something really quite important.

 

www.prensa.cancilleria.gob.ar es un sitio web oficial del Gobierno Argentino