The first member of Argentina’s Navy to be indicted on charges relating to the explosion and sinking of the submarine ARA San Juan two years ago, a tragedy that left 44 crew-members dead, chose not to give testimony in court on Tuesday.
Ex-Lieutenant-Commander Jorge Andrés Sulia, the former logistics chief of the submarine fleet, is one of three Navy officers called in for questioning by Federal Judge Marta Yáñez.
The federal judge of Caleta Olivia is presiding over the probe investigating why the vessel sank in the South Atlantic.
The testimony of Sulia, who was running logistics when the ARA San Juan lost contact with the naval base at Mar del Plata on November 15, 2017, was scheduled to be the first of the three men named as suspects to testify in what’s being called an “inquiry into the crime.” He was notified on October 11, along with two other suspects, Captain Héctor Anibal Alonso and Commander Hugo Miguel Correa
Although details of Sulia’s court appearance were kept fairly secret and the charges Yáñez planned to levy were not released, sources close to the case told Télam he arrived at 10am local time in the morning to Federal Court, without a lawyer. The absence triggered the use of government-provided counsel, causing a delay as the court waited for the arrival of a defence lawyer from the local Comodoro Rivadavia district.
After choosing not to testify, Sulia left the building less than 15 minutes later. He also asked that the other plaintiffs in the case not be present for his presentation.
Correa and Alonso will testify later this week. Correa will go appear on Wednesday and Alonso will follow on Thursday.
Plaintiff's attorney Valeria Carreras has warned that the hearings will end just one day before the window expires for charging these men with the crime of “failure of a public official," as October 25 marks two years since the accident.
Searching for answers
Over the past year, multiple investigations have been opened to determine the causes of the ARA San Juan’s sinking, and to attribute blame for its loss.
As well as the aforementioned criminal investigation in Judge Yañez's courtroom, there is also an independent commission comprised of three submarine experts set up by the Executive branch and, finally, a Bicameral Commission in Congress.
The ARA San Juan disappeared mysteriously in November 2017 on route to Argentina's naval base in Mar del Plata. Its crushed wreckage was located almost exactly one year later on November 16, 2018, by the Seabed Constructor, a ship owned by US search firm Ocean Infinity, after a long, traumatic search for submarine that drew attention from across the globe.
Navy officials later confirmed the submarine suffered an implosion, which caused the vessel to sink. The remains of the vessel now lay "in an area of 70 to 75 metres of debris," 920 metres below sea level, some 460 kilometres southeast of the Patagonian city of Comodoro Rivadavia.
Family members have previously expressed frustration over the lack of answers provided by the authorities, especially given the loss of so many naval officers.