French submarine lost in 1968 located in Mediterranean
MARSEILLE, July 22, 2019 (BSS/AFP) – A French submarine that went missing
in the western Mediterranean in 1968 has been located during a search
mission, officials said Monday, ending a 51-year wait for families of the
deceased who continue to seek answers to the naval disaster.
“It’s a success, a relief and a technical feat,” Defence Minister Florence
Parly wrote on Twitter, after the wreck was discovered 45 kilometres (30
miles) off the southern French port of Toulon.
“I am thinking of the families who have waited for this moment for so
long,” she said.
The diesel and electric-powered Minerve submarine was lost off France’s
southern coast with 52 sailors on board on January 17, 1968.
At the start of the year, Parly announced a new search mission involving
naval vessels and marine experts following fresh demands from families for an
effort to find the final location of their loved ones.
“It’s a relief, hugely emotional,” the son of the Minerve’s captain, Herve
Fauve, told AFP after years of calling for the search mission. “These 52
sailors had been abandoned in some ways.”
Tides and currents in the western Mediterranean were modelled by the
French team, as well as seismic data from the time that indicated the likely
implosion of the vessel as it dropped to the seabed.
The discovery was ultimately made on Sunday by a boat belonging to private
US company Ocean Infinity, which found the Minerve at a depth of 2,370 metres
(7,800 feet), a senior French naval officer told AFP.
The search vessel — the Seabed Constructor, which is equipped with
underwater drones with powerful cameras — arrived on the scene last Tuesday,
the officer said on condition of anonymity.
The Seabed Constructor was also successful in locating Argentina’s lost
San Juan submarine in November 2018 which had disappeared in the Atlantic
Ocean a year earlier.
– Naval mystery –
The cause of the loss of the Minerve has never been confirmed, but the
news that it has been discovered brought joy and relief to families.
“I can’t find the words to describe my emotion,” the wife of one of the
lost sailors, Therese Scheirmann-Descamps, told AFP on Monday from her home
in Toulon where she lives surrounded by black-and-white pictures of her
“It’s extraordinarily soothing, for my children too. It’s such a surprise,
such a joy,” she added.
Fauve, who maintains a detailed website on the disaster, said there was
unlikely to be any trace of the bodies.
Earlier this year, Jacques Dannay, who was just two when his father
disappeared on board, said he was hoping the search mission would give him
“I know it’s stupid, but for me my father isn’t really dead for as long as
we haven’t found the wreck,” he told AFP as the new search mission began. “If
someone told me he was alive, I’d probably believe them.”
– ‘Deadly year’ –
The Minerve was on a training mission in bad weather early on January 17
when it went down while returning to its base in Toulon, France’s main
Mediterranean naval port.
Experts have speculated that the disaster was caused by a problem with the
Minerve’s rudder, a collision with another boat, the explosion of a missile
or torpedo, or a fault with its oxygen supply systems.
France is a world leader in submarine technology and its modern-day fleet
of nuclear-powered vessels are seen as a key part of its defence capabilities
The year 1968 saw the loss of four submarines around the world.
The USS Scorpion sank in the Atlantic, while the Soviet K-129 submarine
armed with three nuclear missiles disappeared in the North Pacific.
It was found by the US in a covert operation in 1974.
The year was also marked by the disappearance of The Dakar, an Israeli
vessel carrying out its maiden voyage with 69 men on board. It was only found
off the Greek island of Crete in 1999.
Faure suggested the Minerve would not be recovered, but a ceremony would
be held at sea above the spot where it lies.
“To say our final goodbye,” he told AFP.