Bad Weather Halts Hunt for Sunken Ship

Associated Press Writer

Heavy winds and high seas off Argentina's rugged South Atlantic coast forced explorers Friday to suspend the search for an Argentine warship sunk by Britain in the 1982 Falkland Islands war.

The expedition, led by the National Geographic Society, struggled for 12 days to locate the Argentine cruiser General Belgrano, whose recovery was to be the centerpiece of a planned two-hour documentary.

"Expeditions such as this are never easy and our operation here was no exception," the expedition's leader, Curt Newport, said in a statement. "As with all things lost at sea, you never know exactly where they sank."

Newport said his team battled 30-foot seas and winds exceeding 70 mph.

They also struggled to use high-tech sonar equipment to comb more than 300 square miles of ocean floor in the South Atlantic.

The team was unable to find the ship, which is believed to be in waters about 13,500 feet deep that is about 115 miles off Argentina's southern coast of Tierra del Fuego, Newport said.

A British submarine torpedoed and sank the General Belgrano on May 2, 1982, killing 323 crew members -- the largest single loss of life in the 78-day war initiated by Argentina's military dictatorship at the time.

Argentine troops invaded the islands -- known to Argentines as Las Malvinas -- on April 2, 1982, amid claims that country had inherited the archipelago from the Spanish crown before they were occupied by Britain in 1833.

In all, more than 700 Argentines and 255 British soldiers were killed before Britain reclaimed the islands, populated by 2,220 people of mostly British ancestry.

The two countries restored relations in 1990, although Argentina still maintains its claims to the islands.

The expedition was expected to return to Argentina's southernmost city of Ushuaia this weekend.

National Geographic officials said taped footage of the expedition would be included in a documentary called the "The Sinking of the Belgrano" expected to air on its cable channel later this year.

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