Bribery Suspicions in ARA San Juan Investigation

The ARA San Juan in an undated file image

Published Dec 21, 2017 8:35 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Wednesday, Argentine police searched the headquarters of the nation's navy and the former Buenos Aires branch of German industrial contractor Ferrostaal in relation to the loss of the submarine ARA San Juan, which disappeared off Patagonia November 15. 

German public radio outlet BR reported earlier this month that Ferrostaal and battery maker EnerSys-Hawker may have paid bribes for a $6 million contract for new battery cells for a 2011 overhaul of the San Juan. Germany's anti-corruption authorities are said to be investigating whether any improper transactions occurred in connection with the submarine contracts.  

According to DPA, Ferrostaal and EnerSys-Hawker proposed new battery cells (rather than new batteries) to the Argentine navy as a cost-saving measure for the refit. One Argentine lawmaker suggested that the grade of the components these firms supplied was uncertain. "There is a suspicion that the batteries that have been replaced were partly or not of the quality that they should have [been]. We also do not know where they came from, Germany or any other country, so we want to know what technicians were there and who signed," said Cornelia Schmidt-Liermann, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Argentine Parliament, speaking to BR. 

On the day of the disappearance, the ARA San Juan's captain reported a short and a fire in a battery bank after water entered the ventilation system. In a later transmission, he said that the problem had been resolved. 

Ferrostaal denied the bribery allegations and said that it has withdrawn from this particular line of business; it sold its stake in Ferrostaal Argentina last year. EnerSys-Hawker did not respond to BR's requests for comment. ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems, the sub's original builder, said that it was never involved with the refit project. 

Attempts to rescue the San Juan's crew ended on November 30 after the maximum possible time period for their survival expired. Efforts to locate the submarine itself continue. 

Last Saturday, Argentina removed its navy's top officer, Adm. Marcelo Eduardo Hipolito Srur, in the first disciplinary action announced since the San Juan disappeared. The Argentine government did not provide a reason for his dismissal.