The Malaysian government has chosen an American private seabed exploration firm, Ocean Infinity, to resume the search for MH370, which disappeared on March 8, 2014, with 239 people on board.
It is now negotiating terms with Ocean Infinity, and will make an official announcement once those terms are agreed.
The underwater search in the southern Indian Ocean was suspended on January 17 this year. The tripartite decision to suspend the search was made by Malaysia, China, and Australia.
In an email to the next-of-kin of the passengers and crew of those on board MH370, the Malaysian government said: “Please be informed that the MH370 Response Team has received several proposals from interested parties to search for MH370.”
These proposals included an offer by the company Ocean Infinity, which offered to search on a “No Cure No Fee” basis, the Malaysian government said.
“These offers have been thoroughly assessed by the team and the governments of Australia and China have been informed of this in line with the spirit of tripartite cooperation.
“In this regard, the government of Malaysia has given the permission for the response team to proceed negotiating the terms and conditions with Ocean Infinity.”
The Malaysian government said that once negotiations have been completed, and after the families of those on board MH370 had been informed, an official announcement would be made.
The other proposals received by the Malaysian government were from the Dutch firm Fugro and an unidentified Malaysian company. Ocean Infinity, which is based in Houston, Texas, made its offer about six months ago.
K.S. Narendran (pictured left), whose wife Chandrika was on board MH370, and who has written a book entitled Life After MH370, said he welcomed Malaysia ”s decision to negotiate terms with Ocean Infinity, which could lead to a resumption of the search. He urged speed in the negotiations.
“The best months for the search are here. Sincerity about the search must be matched by speed in working out terms with Ocean Infinity.”
Australian Danica Weeks, whose husband Paul was a passenger on MH370, said she was ecstatic that the Malaysian government was “doing what it needs to do” to continue the search for MH370, “not only to give us, our loved ones, family and friends the closure and, therefore, the peace we so desperately need after three and half years”.
Malaysia, she said, was also showing that it was aware of “the global impact of not finding this plane and the simple truth that this can happen again if we don’t know what happened to MH370”.
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In an operation that went on for 1,046 days, the Australian-led search team scoured an area spanning more than 120,000 square kilometres, but not a single trace of MH370 was found.
The only debris that is said to be from MH370 has been retrieved off the coast of Africa.
Research by Australian experts has since indicated that MH370 may have gone down in an area of the southern Indian Ocean just north of the zone searched previously, and relatives of those on board MH370 have been pushing for this new zone to be searched as soon as possible.
In its final report on its search for MH370, which was released on October 3, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) states that the search zone has now been “considerably narrowed” to an area of less than 25,000 square kilometres, where, it says, there is the “highest likelihood” of MH370 being located.
“The understanding of where MH370 may be located is better now than it has ever been,” the report states.
The Southern Indian Ocean search area was defined according to calculations by the British company Inmarsat that were based on satellite pings – or handshakes – from MH370. Inmarsat identified a 7th arc, along which it said MH370 was most likely to be found.
Significant doubt has been cast on Inmarsat’s conclusions, however, and the company itself said it could not be 100 percent sure that its analysis is correct.
In its final report, the ATSB said the disappearance of MH370 with 239 people on board “remains a great tragedy”.
The ATSB expressed its deepest sympathies to the families of the passengers and crew on board MH370. It was “almost inconceivable” in this day and age, the ATSB said, for a large commercial aircraft to be missing and for the world not to know what had become of it and those on board.
“We share your profound and prolonged grief, and deeply regret that we have not been able to locate the aircraft, nor those 239 souls on board that remain missing,” the ATSB said.
The ATSB report states that the underwater search “has eliminated most of the high probability areas yielded by reconstructing the aircraft’s flight path and the debris drift studies conducted in the past 12 months have identified the most likely area with increasing precision”.
The ATSB says that re-analysis of satellite imagery obtained on March 23, 2014, in an area close to the 7th arc, has identified a range of objects that may be MH370 debris.
“This analysis complements the findings of the First Principles Review and identifies an area of less than 25,000 square kilometres which has the highest likelihood of containing MH370.”
The analysis was carried out by the government agency Geoscience Australia. In a report released in August, the agency provides an analysis of four images that were captured by a French military satellite just two weeks after MH370 disappeared when en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
The images show “probably man-made” objects in the ocean very close to the former search zone off the western coast of Australia, the agency said.
A report by The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), which was published in June this year, and also released in August, contains the conclusions of drift modelling of debris that has been found on the African mainland and on islands off the African coast.
In its Part 3 drift report, the CSIRO states that three of the images captured by the French military satellite contained nine, two and one objects, respectively, that were classified as “probably man-made” and 28 “possibly man-made” objects.
“The dimensions of these objects are comparable with some of the debris items that have washed up on African beaches and their location near the 7th arc makes them impossible to ignore,” the CSIRO said.
“But there is no evidence to confirm that any of these objects (let alone all) are pieces of 9M-MRO (the aircraft flying as MH370).”
There are those who doubt that MH370 ended its journey in the southern Indian Ocean, but, for the relatives of those on board, today’s news shows that something is being done, and this, after such a lengthy period of inaction, is an important step forward.
Reflecting on what the search might, or might not, yield Narendran said: “If Ocean Infinity does find debris of MH370, then the 7th arc thesis will gain strength.
“If the search fails, then this will strengthen the critics of the identification of the search zone, the assumptions, and the evidence relied upon, and may well throw open the whole question of the 7th arc; the folly of relying on Inmarsat data as if it were infallible.”
Narendran says it seems as if the Ocean Infinity search is the last gambit in the southern Indian Ocean.
“If nothing comes of it, and that is a possibility, then we have to ask if we have indeed reached a dead end.”
Danica Weeks said: “It is the Malaysian government’s duty, and the duty of all governments involved, and the duty of the International Civil Aviation Organisation, to find out the truth about what happened to MH370.”
It also the responsibility of Boeing, Weeks says, to prove the safety of its 777 aircraft.