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The research of the submarine "La Minerve" starts, 50 years after its disappearance

"La Minerve", which disappeared with its 52 crewmen on January 27, 1968 off Toulon, photographed docked in the port of Marseille, January 1, 1965.
"La Minerve", which disappeared with its 52 crewmen on January 27, 1968 off Toulon, photographed docked in the port of Marseille, January 1, 1965. AFP

It was strange that this boat should be named Why not ? Why not give in to hope, finally, to find at the bottom of the Mediterranean the steel coffin of the 52 sailors of the submarine of attack The Minerve, disappeared on January 27, 1968 off Toulon? We are looking for The Minerveafter fifty years of silence. On the night of February 7 to 8, the Why not ?, a Ifremer boat equipped with a sounder, made the preliminary markings of the sinking area.

This first scan of funds is "A point of no return" to go after a long-awaited quest, greet Hervé Fauve, son of the submarine's commander. With Christophe Agnus, the son of the ship's mechanical officer, this patient man managed to break the silence of the navy on this drama.

After having obtained from Emmanuel Macron the declassification of the file, the families arrested the minister of the armed forces, Florence Parly, at the end of 2018: enormous means had been mobilized successfully to find the remains of the San Juan Argentinean, an almost 60-meter submarine that had sunk a year earlier, how to understand that France was not looking for its Minerva ?

The research program was released Wednesday, February 13, by the Navy, after being introduced to families on Monday. The Minerve, after having imploded as a result of a damage, could rest at 2,250 meters deep. In 1970, three possible locations, the most probable, were identified thanks to the calculations of the geophysical detection laboratory of Professor Yves André Rocard.

Drone

In 2019, it will be a priority to look 20 kilometers from Cap Sicié, in an area of ​​283 square kilometers, where the bottoms are flat, composed of mud and sand. The privileged position of The Minerve is located at 42º 52 North / 05º 47 East. The operations will be carried out with the means of Ifremer and the Hydrographic Service of the Navy, to which the Ministry has ordered to modify their program.

Finding an entire wreck from the start would be a miracle, the specialists of these two organizations agree. After the first rough sweep of the asperities of the bottom will therefore follow a second phase, throughout the month of July.

A drone of great depth, operated from a ship, will crisscross the pre-selected areas. The machine will be able to dive up to 2,850 meters, and position itself at 40 meters from the ground, sweeping one square kilometer per hour to locate objects with a resolution of about one meter. It was with a similar drone that the San Juan. " The San Juan is really the case of reference », explains the captain of Olivier Boumezane, "We hope to find, as it was the case for him debris of 10, 20 or 30 meters. A propeller, an intact compartment, torpedo tubes ".

Five million euros

Another remotely piloted drone will be able to sound the mud up to 70 meters deep, if there are indications that a wreck is buried in the sediments. The use of these machines requires a calm sea, which is why the navy waits the summer for these operations.

These results, collected and then processed, will launch a third and final phase of research, scheduled between 18 November and 18 December. The Nautile, inhabited submarine of Ifremer able to stay six hours at the bottom of the sea, will investigate the places where have been recorded the most convincing echoes, to take pictures and thus formally identify the submarine.

From 1968 to 1970, due to a lack of technology, the research consisted of rough grenading campaigns. Today, important means are being implemented, some of which did not exist ten years ago. Hervé Fauve, who had studied a private operation, had estimated the necessary budget to five million euros. Navy spokesman insists it will act "With a lot of humility"without certainty of success.

Nathalie Guibert

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