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Monday
May142018

Six months after Argentine submarine went missing, families feel 'invisible'

Joe Goldman/ABC News (BUENOS AIRES, Argentina) -- Tuesday marks six months since the last communication was received from an Argentine submarine that vanished into the murky depths of the South Atlantic Ocean.

For the families of the 44 missing crew members of the ARA San Juan, these six months have afforded little in the way of answers to their many questions: What happened? Who's responsible? What was the mission of the San Juan on that fateful voyage? Where is the wreckage? Where are the bodies of their loved ones?

Families complain they have been treated poorly by the government and naval officials since the beginning of their traumatic experience, and say President Mauricio Macri and Defense Minister Oscar Aguad have avoided meeting with them.

"It's almost as if the government considers us as their enemies," Luis Tagliapietra, father of missing crewman Damian Tagliapietra, told ABC News. "The government, I don't know if they have something to hide or are just incompetent. But they have not done anything to answer our many questions."

"They want to make us invisible," added Isabel Polo, the sister of crew member Daniel Alejandro Polo. "The families have had to go about their lives on their own without really any assistance from the government."

The 44 crew members are still receiving their paychecks as they are considered legally alive until their bodies can be found or until the government decrees that they are legally deceased -- something that has not occurred, much to the families' consternation. Other matters such as life insurance, pensions and even accessing private bank accounts have been shelved until the submarine is found or the crew members are declared dead.

A one-time hardship payment to family members of about $15 in January was scoffed at and derided by loved ones.

The search, which early on involved more than a dozen countries and up to 30 specialized planes and ships, has basically been suspended since mid-January. Nine foreign companies have answered an international bid on a government contract for private expeditions to locate the vessel. However, that bid process has been delayed by bureaucratic snafus and renegotiating certain technical aspects of the bid terms.

The search area -- calculated from the last known point of communication and given variables such as air supply, ocean currents, etc. -- is 186,297 square miles, an area the size of Spain and the ocean depths within that zone range from 900 to more than 10,000 feet.

There are two federal courts investigating the San Juan accident. Marta Yañez, the federal judge in Patagonia in southern Argentina who is in charge of the main investigation did not respond to requests to speak with ABC News. However, someone close to the court investigation said that although dozens of witnesses from the navy and from the defense ministry have been questioned, the case is expected to last at least through the end of the year.

Another case in the federal courts of Buenos Aires involves the allegations that the government spied on some of the families, which Luis Tagliapietra said was proven by expert analysis of telephone and email interferences that occurred in the past few months.

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