Peruvian Navy Submarine Force officers took part in the 18th annual Asia-Pacific Submarine Conference at the invitation of the Submarine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet. The event was held February 12-15 in San Diego, California.
The Peruvian Navy designated as its representatives Captain César Augusto Mauricio Jaramillo, commander of the Submarine Squadron; and Lieutenant Commander Wilfredo Berto Muñoz, second commander of the Rescue Group. “We strengthened collaboration in combined operations to rescue submarine crews sunk in the Pacific,” Capt. Mauricio told Diálogo. “We also gained knowledge about the latest technological advances for emergencies.”
In 2001, the U.S. force established the conference that each year gathers navies that operate submarines, such as Argentina, Australia, Canada, the United States, Indonesia, Japan, Peru, and the United Kingdom, to exchange survival and interoperability knowledge of rescue resources. The objective is to promote mutual understanding and open international cooperation channels.
“These forums involve us in technological advances, standardizing procedures, and the update of international cooperation channels,” Lt. Cdr. Berto told Diálogo. “Although the conference was only for Asia-Pacific, we know that there is worldwide interest and awareness of what might happen to any unit, either submarine or surface, in a catastrophe.”
The Peruvian Submarine Force is the oldest in South America. It has six class 209 units, and started a modernization process in 2017.
The U.S. Navy Undersea Rescue Command (URC) presented its Pressurized Rescue Module (PRM). The mini submarine can submerge at a depth of 600 meters to connect to a submarine at the bottom of the ocean at up to a 45-degree angle in both pitch and roll. PRM can rescue up to 16 people at a time.
“Weather and bathymetry [underwater depth] influence sea search-and-rescue operations. It’s essential to know URC’s rescue module, as well as the procedure to move the equipment in case of emergency,” Capt. Mauricio said. “The U.S. Navy’s high-tech equipment is compatible with submarines and rescue systems of other navies worldwide.”
Participating countries agreed to look into ways to support PRM deployment in their jurisdictions. The Peruvian Navy analyzes resources and capabilities in country to mobilize the mini submarine by air, sea, or land to save submarine crews in danger. “It’s important to be prepared all over with special infrastructure and tools to receive help as soon as possible,” Lt. Cdr. Berto added.
The U.S. Navy also presented the Submarine Rescue Chamber designed during World War II. It can rescue up to six people at a time and reach a submarine at a depth of 250 meters. The Navy also displayed its remotely operated vehicles, undersea exploring robots that send real-time information on damaged vehicles.
“It was useful to learn about URC’s assets, exchange information, and reinforce collaboration with several international organizations, such as the International Submarine Escape and Rescue Liaison Office,” said Capt. Mauricio. “Opening communication channels with the U.S. Undersea Rescue Command is crucial for the Peruvian Navy.”
The Argentine Navy delegation shared a technical presentation concerning its submarine ARA San Juan, which disappeared November 2017 in the Atlantic Ocean with 44 people aboard. In late 2018, a U.S. company found the remains of the ARA San Juan 907 meters deep in the Argentine Patagonia, but was unable to bring it up.
Something similar happened in Peru in 1988, when the submarine BAP Pacocha sank following an accident with a Japanese vessel. Eight Peruvian Navy personnel died. A team of 150 members, including 70 divers from the Peruvian Navy Rescue Service, worked for more than a year to bring the submarine afloat. The submarine prow emerged in July 1989, the Navy indicated on its website.
“Submarines have testing, operational, and collapse depths. When one of the vessels falls below its collapse depth, hope decreases,” said Capt. Mauricio. “Help can arrive immediately, but sometimes the consequences can be dire, as was the case in the ARA San Juan’s tragedy.”
Interoperability and organization
Interoperability among the countries that take part in a search-and-rescue mission captured the attention of everyone at the conference. During an emergency, eight navies worldwide join efforts in different areas: the United Kingdom leads the technical area, Canada conducts medical efforts, and the United States leads the operational part. Sweden, Norway, Japan, Australia, France, and the United States work aerial and mobility areas.
The Peruvian Navy is preparing for those situations. The Submarine Force trains with the support of the Submarine Learning Center on breakdown control, stations to trim submarines to go to the surface, and surface tactics maneuvers.
“We’ve been sending submarine units to the United States to train for more than 15 years. Each unit has a crew of 45 members,” said Capt. Mauricio. “In November 2019, the Royal Australian Navy will conduct a multinational rescue exercise, and it would be beneficial for us if we could participate,” he concluded.