Israel Navy unlikely to retrieve wreckage of sunken sub Dakar

JERUSALEM — Israel is unlikely to try and raise the wreckage of a submarine discovered on the Mediterranean floor by a U.S. exploration team 31 years after the vessel disappeared on its maiden voyage from Britain.

Maj. Gen. Alex Tal, commander of the Israeli navy, this week told the families of the 69 officers and crew who were aboard the submarine that naval forces lack the technology to carry out a deep-sea retrieval of the Dakar.

Nevertheless, Defense Minister Moshe Arens said this week that if such technology is found, cost would be no obstacle.

An Israeli military team last Friday positively identified the submarine based on undersea photographs of the vessel taken by the U.S. underwater exploration company Nauticos, the same firm that discovered the Titanic's wreckage.

Until Saturday, when the official announcement of the discovery was made, the whereabouts of the submarine had been one of the greatest maritime mysteries. The sub was declared lost with all hands on Feb. 4, 1968.

Naval experts are virtually convinced from the evidence provided by the deep-sea surveys that the submarine was struck, probably accidentally, by a passing ship while it was close to the surface. The vessel appeared to have split in two and to have a gash in its side.

Photographs of the equipment on board the Dakar showed that the submarine was trying to reach the surface after being hit.

The submarine was found less than two miles beneath the surface southeast of Crete at a point along the vessel's original route. The site of the sinking was not far from the submarine's location during its last communication in January 1968.

Taken from the vantage point of the break in the hull, the photographs show the vessel's compass, a spool of yellow nylon cable used by the crew members for work outside the ship and a storage area with two sealed ammunition cases fully intact.

The photographs did not reveal any human remains, said Reserve Col. Doron Amir, who was part of the Israeli team.

Experts said the deep-sea conditions and extreme cold preserved the submarine. They speculated that any remains of the vessel's crew could be in a similar state.

Families of the Dakar crew disagree over whether an effort should be made to salvage the vessel and look for bodies.

Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Shaul Mofaz stressed that over the years the IDF, in particular the navy and its commanders, had invested huge efforts in staff, time and money, to locate the missing submarine.

Over the past two decades, searches had been conducted in shallower waters off the coasts of Egypt and Crete, as part of 25 separate missions that had been carried out in the search for the Dakar.

But after consultations with the U.S. Navy and experts in the field of deep-water research, the Israeli navy had begun searching the deep water region along the Dakar's route nearly two years ago.

Sophisticated equipment and satellite technology that eventually led to the discovery of the Dakar were not available for earlier searches.

The Dakar, under the command of Lt. Commander Ya'acov Ra'ananleft, left Portsmouth, England Jan. 9, 1968, after having undergone extensive sea trials following an overhaul and refit.

The officers and crew of the Dakar were considered to be among the best in the Israel Navy. That, coupled with the discovery of one of the ship's signal buoys by a fisherman off the Gaza coast a year after the Dakar's disappearance, led to a plethora of theories as to what might have happened.

Some thought it had been sunk by the Egyptians, others that it may have been destroyed by the Russians.

Others said the Dakar, realizing it had been detected, dove below its maximum depth capability, and imploded under the pressure. There were even those who thought that the Russians who acted as advisers to the Egyptian Navy in Port Said may have captured the Dakar's crew and exiled them to Siberia.

Enroute to Haifa, the ship has reported its position, in line with its original route, on Jan. 24, 1968, and made three six-hourly radio check-ins following that. The fourth call should have been a further update on the submarine's position, but it never came.

The Dakar was originally a British submarine named the Totem, which has been built in 1945. It was purchased by the Israel Navy from Britain's Royal Navy in June 1965 and was renamed the Dakar.

The sub underwent extensive refurbishment in Portsmouth for several years and Israeli navy crews trained alongside their British counterparts.

Meanwhile, Israel Radio reported that a Mediterranean cruise ship returning to Israel is due to hold a memorial service next week for the Dakar crew when it sails near the site of the sub's disappearance.