The United States assisted in the search for a missing Argentine submarine

Argentine military submarine ARA San Juan

Distress calls bring hope to search for missing Argentina sub

Mr Balbi said: "We've received the report from the company that analysed the signals - the seven attempted calls did not come from the submarine's satellite phone".

"I also pray for the men of the crew of the Argentine military submarine which is missing", the pontiff said.

Satellite signals heard over the weekend did not come from a missing Argentine Navy submarine San Juan that went missing on November 15, dashing hopes that the vessel could be located.

'The submarine surfaced and reported a malfunction, which is why its ground command ordered it to return to its naval base at Mar del Plata, ' he said.

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The ARA San Juan submarine was 432km off Argentina's coast in the South Atlantic when it sent its last signal, navy spokesman Enrique Balbi said. Authorities last had contact with submarine ARA San Juan on Wednesday as it was on a voyage from the extreme southern port of Ushuaia to the city of Mar del Plata. The Argentine sub has been missing in the Argentine Sea, and the subsequent search is entering its fifth day.

In the "worst-case scenario", the missing sub could run out of oxygen in two days, Balbi said. On Board the submarine at the moment of departure was 44 members of the crew, why the ship did not respond and that could happen - is not known.

Specialist underwater rescue equipment has arrived in Argentina from the United States and more boats and planes have also joined the search, which has been hampered by heavy winds and high waves.

A search of 80 percent of the area initially targeted for the operation turned up no sign of the vessel on the ocean surface, he said, but the crew should have ample supplies of food and oxygen.

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"We are processing this information", Balbi said.

At the Vatican, Pope Francis, a native of Argentina, said he was sending "fervent prayers" for the crew.

The Argentine military has also been working with a U.S. company that specializes in satellite communication to determine the location of the submarine.

The San Juan was inaugurated in 1983, making it the newest of the three submarines in the navy's fleet.

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The German-built diesel-electric sub, made its last contact on Wednesday, prompting Buenos Aires to launch an air and sea search with help from countries including Britain, Brazil and the United States. Built in Germany by Nordseewerke, it underwent mid-life maintenance in 2008 in Argentina.

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