Naval spokesperson Captain Gabriel Galeazzi offers a new statement on the situation of the search and rescue of the ARA San Juan submarine in Mar del Plata, Argentina, on Nov. 22, 2017. (Xinhua/Gabriel Galeazzi/TELAM)
By Juan Manuel Nievas
BUENOS AIRES, Nov. 22 (Xinhua) -- The families and friends of the 44 missing crewmen of Argentina's ARA San Juan submarine, which vanished in south Atlantic on Nov. 15, held a mass gathering at the Mar del Plata naval base here to pray for the safe return of their loved ones.
The gathering was partly organized by classmates of Captain Jorge Bergallo, one of the missing sailors, and attended by some of his former teammates at the Club Sporting rugby club.
"We are Bergallo's friends from the club where we played rugby. We decided to hold a ceremony to pray for him and 43 others who are missing to return," said Diego, one of the players.
"Jorge is a great guy. We've known each other since we were born, our parents were sailors and classmates. As friends, we became rugby players, and we are united by the knowledge they would all return," he added.
Hernan, another participant at the event, expressed his belief that the missing submarine crew would return.
"They are excellent professionals and I know they will return at any moment," Hernan said.
He described Bergallo as having a lifelong passion for the navy, who had dreamed to become a submariner since he was a child.
"We have known each other for many years. Like all those aboard, he is very professional, committed to his work," said Gustavo Lanfranconi, another former teammate of Bergallo.
Bergallo's entire family is linked to the navy, Lanfranconi said. "We are accompanying them at this time, praying and waiting for them to return."
Bergallo's father once commanded the submarine, whose disappearance has caused widespread concern in Argentina, with authorities having launched a broad search and rescue operation.
The operation, which involves 4,000 men and is led by Defense Minister Oscar Aguad, has seen the participation of vessels and aircraft from Germany, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Spain, the United States, France, Norway, Peru, Britain and Uruguay.
The ARA San Juan, a TR-1700 submarine manufactured in Germany, was commissioned by the Argentine Navy in 1985. It last communicated with their command base on Nov. 15.
Speaking at a forum on open government in Buenos Aires, President Mauricio Macri said: "In these difficult hours, I did not want to start without sending once again all my support to the families of the crew of the ARA San Juan submarine."
Naval spokesperson, Captain Gabriel Galeazzi, said on Tuesday the search is now happening over 480,000 square km.
Galeazzi said that it was "an arduous task, it is not simple and takes time. We must have patience, the area is being covered."