The Malaysian government has accepted a “no cure, no fee” offer by the American private seabed exploration company Ocean Infinity to conduct a new search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.
The plane disappeared on March 8, 2014, with 239 people on board. It was en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
The MH Family Support Centre sent an email to the next-of-kin yesterday (Friday) stating that “the MH370 Response Team wishes to note that the Government of Malaysia has engaged Ocean Infinity to undertake further search operation [sic] for MH370 on a ‘No Cure No Fee’ basis”.
Relatives of those on board MH370 were told that the vessel that will be used in the operation left for the search area on Tuesday (January 6).
The 115.4-metre Seabed Constructor, which is a Norwegian vessel that is on lease to Ocean Infinity, set off from Durban in South Africa and is heading for Perth, Australia.
The Malaysian government is expected to make an announcement in the coming week about the contract being established with Ocean Infinity.
A spokesperson for Ocean Infinity told Changing Times: “Ocean Infinity is hopeful of receiving the final contract award for the resumption of the search for MH370 over the coming days.
“With a relatively narrow weather window, we are moving the vessel, Seabed Constructor, towards the vicinity of the possible search zone. This is designed to save time should the contract award be forthcoming, as hoped.”
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 operation that went on for 1,046 days, the Australian-led search team scoured an area spanning more than 120,000 square kilometres. 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.
Given that the weather in the southern Indian Ocean is expected to deteriorate in April, relatives of those on board MH370 are anxious that the search begin as soon as possible.
K.S. Narendran (pictured left), whose wife Chandrika was on board MH370, and who has written a book entitled Life After MH370, said he was pleased to receive official word that Ocean Infinity had been engaged to conduct a new search.
“There is no word on the terms of the agreement between Malaysia and Ocean Infinity yet, but a ship is on its way to the search area so, by mid-January, the search should have resumed in earnest.
“The good news as I see it is that Ocean Infinity will cover large swathes very quickly.”
In a recent article, The Economist quotes the technical director of Ocean Infinity, Josh Broussard, as saying that, in prior cruises in the Atlantic, the company has managed to scan 890 square kilometres a day using six HUGIN Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs).
Broussard is quoted as saying that, with the eight AUVs that will be used in the search for MH370, he thinks the company, which is based in Houston, Texas, will be able to scan 1,200 square kilometres a day.
Each HUGIN AUV is 6.2 metres long, weighs 1,850 kilograms, and contains a titanium sphere that protects its electronics from deep-ocean pressure.
The AUVs can go down to a depth of 6,000 metres. Each one has two rechargeable lithium polymer battery packs that together provide about sixty hours of operating time at a speed of 3.6 knots.
In its final report on its search for MH370, which was released on October 3 last year, 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, the ATSB says, there is the “highest likelihood” of MH370 being located.
The original 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 was correct.
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Malaysia’s transport minister, Liow Tiong La, said at this year’s MH370 remembrance event in Kuala Lumpur that 25 pieces of debris had been found and analysed.
There had been confirmation that three pieces of debris belonged to MH370, Liow said, and five others were “almost certainly” from the plane.
In an article published in the South China Morning Post on October 14 last year, French journalist Florence de Changy, who has written a book entitled “Le vol MH370 n’a pas disparu” (Flight MH370 did not disappear), said that the handling of the issue of debris in the ATSB’s final report on the search in the southern Indian Ocean was troubling.
“It publishes a drawing provided by Malaysia that shows about twenty pieces of debris found in the western Indian Ocean even though most of these pieces have not been confirmed as belonging to MH370 and several were found in questionable circumstances,” she writes.
De Changy does not believe the official version of events. She says it is absurd; that it is impossible in this hi-tech day and age for a Boeing 777 with 239 people on board to disappear. She is convinced that there are those who know what happened to the plane, and why.
The journalist cites experts who have doubts about the authorities’ stated conviction that the flaperon discovered on Reunion Island is from MH370.
Whatever the outcome of the Ocean Infinity search, for the relatives who have been waiting more than eight months for a decision on the company’s offer to be made, there is tangible relief that action is finally being taken.
This article has been updated.