The search for a missing submarine is no longer a rescue mission as there is no hope of finding any of the crew alive, the Argentine Navy has said.
Captain Enrique Babi said on Thursday that he was ending rescue efforts for the 44 missing crew of ARA San Juan more than two weeks after it vanished.
Search efforts will continue, he said, but are now solely focused on recovering the wreck of the vessel from somewhere on the sea bed.
Captain Enrique Babi, head of the search operation for the ARA San Juan, said on Thursday that the navy will be ending its rescue mission more than two weeks after the sub vanished
The Navy will continue searching for the wreckage of the vessel, Babi said, but admitted there are now no hopes of finding the 44 crew alive
Family members of the missing crew members collapsed in grief as Babi broke the news at the naval base in Mar del Plata, where the sub was travelling before it vanished
He said the rescue efforts had already been 'extended for more than twice what is estimated for a rescue.'
'We've had 28 ships, nine aircraft, 4,000 people involved, 18 countries supporting,' he added.
'Despite the magnitude of these efforts, we've been unable to find the submarine.'
Some relatives of the crew broke into tears after they received the news.
'I don't understand this arbitrary and unjustified decision,' Luis Tagliapietra, the father of 27-year-old crew member Alejandro Tagliapietra, told local TV.
'It's unusually cruel. Every day, it's a new blow. I'm destroyed.'
Among the missing, now presumed dead, is 35-year-old Eliana Maria Krawczyk, Argentina's first female submariner.
The San Juan last made contact with commanders on November 15 to report that water had entered the vessel through its snorkel and caused a battery fault.
Some relatives reacted with shock and fury at the news the Navy was abandoning its efforts, while others had been saying for days they did not expect their loved ones to come home
Relatives of the missing walk past a fence at the Mar del Palta base where a chain link