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The United States (U.S.) has joined search for a missing Argentine military submarine which was last spotted on Wednesday in the San Jorge Gulf, a few hundred kilometers off the coast of southern Argentina’s Patagonia region.

The ARA San Juan submarine and the 44 crew members were traveling through the Atlantic Ocean from a base in far southern Argentina’s Tierra del Fuego archipelago to its home port in Mar del Plata.

The vessel had been due to arrive at its destination Sunday but Argentina’s Defense Ministry said in a statement that the crew of the missing tried contacting naval bases seven times.

The navy said the military is working with a U.S.-based company that specialises in satellite communication to determine the location of the submarine, which has been missing for more than three days.

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News of the search struck a chord in the Vatican. Pope Francis, an Argentina native and a former archbishop of Buenos Aires, offered his “fervent prayers for the 44 officers aboard the ARA San Juan” in a message released on his behalf Saturday by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state.

Francis encouraged efforts to find the vessel and “asks that his closeness be conveyed to their families and to the military and civil authorities of the country in these difficult moments,” the message reads.

Southern Argentina’s Patagonia coast is notorious for strong storms that race across the region.

“Currently a powerful low pressure system is causing wind gusts in excess of 70 kph (nearly 45 mph) and churning up the South Atlantic Ocean with swells equivalent to a two-story building. This weather will hamper the search efforts for at least the next 48 hours,” CNN Meteorologist Derek Van Dam said.

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