Malaysia

MH370: as Ocean Infinity search draws to a close, next-of-kin call for transparency and further investigation

Updates: Ocean Infinity says its current search for MH370 will continue until June 8, and next-of-kin of those on board MH370 have had a meeting with Malasysia’s new transport minister, Anthony Loke.

 

The latest underwater search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 is expected to end in the coming days and there have been mixed signals from the Malaysian government about what will happen next.

The messages conveyed by the prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, and the prime minister in waiting, Anwar Ibrahim, are very different and the new transport minister, Anthony Loke Siew Fook, has said very conflicting things in the days since he was appointed to the post.

Mahathir told a news conference that “we had to come to a stage where we cannot keep searching for something we really cannot find”, but Anwar, who was only recently released from jail and has not yet been re-elected as an MP, is calling for further investigations and possible new searches.

MH370 vanished on March 8, 2014, with 239 people on board. It was en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

Most of the world’s media jumped the gun on Tuesday and said the search by the American private seabed exploration company Ocean Infinity had already ended. On Wednesday, Anthony Loke himself said the search had ended the previous day.

However, the Norwegian vessel that Ocean Infinity has leased for the mission, Seabed Constructor, has not yet returned to port and is not yet booked into a destination harbour.

The expected end date for Ocean Infinity’s search was May 29, but the company extended its mission and is now pushing north. It has just examined an area where, in 2014, a Chinese patrol ship detected an ultrasonic pulse that could have been a signal from an aircraft’s black box.

The Malaysian government and Ocean Infinity agreed that the search would be conducted on a “No Cure No Fee” basis.

Ocean Infinity’s chief executive, Oliver Plunkett, said in a statement on Tuesday that it was “with a heavy heart” that the company was ending its operation without having found MH370.

In three months of searching, Ocean Infinity has scoured, and collected data from, more than 112,000 square kilometres of ocean floor, which is far in excess of the initial 25,000-square-kilometre target and almost the same area as was examined in the previous search over a period of two and a half years.

“I would firstly like to extend the thoughts of everyone at Ocean Infinity to the families of those who have lost loved ones on MH370,” Plunkett said.

“Part of our motivation for renewing the search was to try to provide some answers to those affected.  It is therefore with a heavy heart that we end our current search without having achieved that aim.”

Ocean Infinity has been using state-of-the-art technology. The company is able to deploy up to eight Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs), capable of operating in depths up to 6,000 metres.

After it concludes its search, Ocean Infinity will submit its report to the Malaysian Ministry of Transport. The report then goes to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Annex 13 Safety Investigation Team for MH370, whose members will then compile their final report.

Loke issued a statement yesterday (Wednesday) urging the Malaysian-led Annex 13 team – which also comprises accredited representatives from air accident and incident investigation organisations in Australia, China, France, Indonesia, Singapore, the United Kingdom, and the United States – “to finalise the MH370 final report in the near future”. He said he hoped it would be published by July.

The transport minister says that there will be full disclosure when the final report is published.

Speaking on behalf of Chinese next-of-kin, Jiang Hui (pictured left) says that it is a violation of international conventions for the Malaysian government to be releasing a final report into the disappearance of MH370 at this stage.

He says there has been no official ending of the search, that the governments of Malaysia, Australia, and China have so far only officially suspended it, and that those governments need to agree that the search is over before a final report can be released.

“In a meeting with my family in China on April 19 this year, the Malaysian government promised to continue its investigation into what happened to MH370,” Jiang Hui said. “They agreed that the report following the Ocean Infinity search would not be their ‘Final Report’.”

The Chinese next-of-kin have contacted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing to try and get some clarification about their legal position in face of the Malaysian government’s latest announcement about the publication of a final report.

Relatives say ‘closure’ is not yet possible

Next-of-kin of those on board MH370 were at first encouraged by comments made by Anthony Loke, but hope turned to anger when he said it was time to look for closure.

Australian Danica Weeks, whose husband Paul was on board MH370, told Changing Times that she was trying to get a meeting with Australia’s foreign minister, Julie Bishop, about MH370.

“She has never spoken to me. She has said a great deal about MH17, but has never pushed for answers about MH370.”

Weeks, who has two young sons aged five and seven, says the Malaysian government does not get to close the door on the disappearance of MH370 and the loss of 239 innocent lives.

“We want transparency,” Weeks told Changing Times. “We don’t even have the full cargo manifest for MH370.”

A total ­2.2 tonnes of cargo were initially said to be lithium batteries, but were later described as “radio accessories and chargers”.

Weeks says she has been hugely hopeful during the Ocean Infinity search, as she has been during every search, but now she is “disappointed and sad and frustrated”.

She believes that it was a fault in the plane that caused MH370 to crash, and has launched legal action in the United States against the manufacturer, Boeing. She wants Boeing to prove that the 777s that are being flown are safe.

Danica Weeks at the MH370 remembrance event in KL in 2017.

The family support group Voice370 has requested a meeting with Anthony Loke to get  clarity on the government’s position on such issues as what constitutes new evidence.

On May 23, the group issued a statement urging the new Malaysian government to include the following as part of its agenda in the ensuing100 days:

  • a comprehensive review of all matters related to the disappearance of MH370, especially the release of all relevant documents such as the full cargo manifest;
  • an investigation into any possible falsification and or elimination of records related to MH370 and its maintenance; and
  • a further investigation and inquiry into any act or omission across the entire spectrum of operations that may have impaired tracking, search, rescue, and recovery.

“We also hope, like with other recent matters, Malaysia will be more open to sharing MH370-related information with other international governments, bodies, and agencies in order to allow a complete and thorough review to take place,” Voice370 said.

“We also call upon the government to engage Voice370 in ongoing dialogue and consultations regarding the search and investigation into MH370, and on issues related to the well-being of the families, especially if the current search bears no fruit.”

Just after Loke was named as transport minister by Mahathir, Bernama quoted him as saying that it was important to continue searching for MH370. Now, however, he is talking about the search for the plane being at an end.

Loke (pictured left) said yesterday that, despite every effort using the best technology available, modelling, and advice from a highly skilled team of experts, as well as the search operation crew being the best in their field, the search for MH370 had not yielded the result hoped for.

He said that, while combined scientific studies had been used to refine areas of probability, to date, no new information had been encountered to determine the exact location of the aircraft.

Loke thanked those involved in the search and “the many nations that provided expertise and assistance since the early days of this unfortunate tragedy”. He added: “We again take this opportunity to honour the memory of those who have lost their lives and acknowledge the enormous loss felt by their loved ones.”

He said he hoped and prayed that the families and loved ones of those on board MH370 would be given strength to resume normal lives, “or as normal as life may be possible without their loved ones”.

He said he wished to reiterate that the aspiration to locate MH370 would never be abandoned.

“We remain ever hopeful that we will be able to find the answers we seek and new information will come to light and that at some point in the future the aircraft will be located.

“We remain steadfast in our unwavering commitments towards solving the mystery of MH370 to bring some closure to this unfortunate incident.”

Relatives of those on board the missing plane were shocked to hear Mahathir say yesterday that the search for MH370 could not go on forever.

The prime minister said if that if any new information was found, the search for MH370 might be resumed but, added that “at the moment we have to put a stop to the search”.

He said: “We regret it very much and we understand the feelings of the relatives, but we cannot keep on searching for this 370 for ever.”

Mahathir has previously stated that he considers it plausible that MH370 was taken over remotely.

The first minister of the state of Terengganu, Ahmad Samsuri Mokhtar, who is also a trained aerospace engineer, has meanwhile urged the Malaysian government to continue the search for MH370.

He says there needs to be a more in-depth investigation covering every possible aspect of the plane’s disappearance. Even conspiracy theories need to be investigated to see whether they have any basis, he says.

Grace Subathirai Nathan, whose mother, Anne Daisy, was on board the missing plane, told KL-based BFM radio that Malaysia should either put aside the funds already allocated to pay Ocean Infinity if it found MH370 or, if that was impossible because of the country’s national debt, it should ask for contributions to a search fund from all the other countries that had nationals on board MH370 and companies like Boeing and Airbus that have billions of dollars profit and would benefit immensely from MH370 being found.

Nathan says the Malaysian government should leave the door open for other companies to search for MH370 at their own expense, with an agreement that they would be paid if they found the plane.

“In the interim we should just go back to the drawing board and see if there is anything that has been missed. The fact that this state-of-the-art search has come up empty-handed has raised a lot more questions that we should really be taking seriously,” Nathan, who is a spokeswoman for Voice370, told BFM.

Voice370 continues to emphasise that the search for the plane is not just an issue for the next-of-kin, and is about aviation safety in general. It is, Nathan says, “about preventing something like this from happening again”.

Danica Weeks also thinks investigators should go back to basics and highlights the fact that millions of people travel on commercial flights every day.

“The last thing I saw of Paul was him walking out the door to get on a commercial plane to go to work.

“For me, the gloves are off. I have been patient for four years. I’m done with patience. I want to know where my husband is.”

 

Narendran at this year’s MH370 Remembrance Day event in KL.

On May 25, K.S. Narendran, whose wife Chandrika was on board MH370, and who has written a book entitled Life After MH370, published a piece on Facebook entitled “MH370: Dashed hopes” in which he said that Loke was offering closure to families and the public, “when it is more like simply closing the case file, not resolving the case because someone got tired or felt the whole exercise was futile, leaving a hole in the pocket, or a dead-end had been reached”.

Narendran says that, initially, Loke had warmed the hearts of affected families, “long used to screaming, kicking, battering heads against an indifferent wall merely to be heard”.

Then, after a Cabinet meeting, he announced that Ocean Infinity had until May 29 to find the plane and there would be no further extensions.

“The word ‘closure’ may mean little more than a bureaucratic flourish of a pen to the minister,” Narendran wrote. For Loke, it was the releasing of a report and consigning files to the archives, but to affected families of missing passengers, it was a deeply emotive subject, “caught as they are between hope and hopelessness, between formally and solemnly saying goodbye to a loved one and not knowing how to let go in the absence of anything definitive about where MH370 is and why it got there”.

Narendran said he was barely able to contain his deep sense of betrayal.

“It is barely possible to conceal anger at a decision taken without the courtesy of a meeting and consultation with affected families.

“The haste is unexplained and appears influenced by briefings from officials who I suspect have alternated between being keen to close the search file and feeling pushed by public opinion to keep going.”

Given the long list of scandals and wrongdoings by the previous government that needed to be investigated and dealt with in Malaysia, was the open-ended search for MH370 a drain on resources and a drag on the government’s attention that it felt had to be arrested? Narendran asked.

“If this is what it has come to, I feel that this government has flattered to deceive. If the recent utterances of the minister are the last on the subject, it will have shown itself as being no different from a typical opposition that has sympathies and a sense of solidarity with the aggrieved, but has no appetite for remedy when it has the power to do so.”

It was the next-of-kin’s fond hope that the new government would assess and order the release of all information related to ground operations, air traffic control, and radar for independent experts to analyse, Narendran wrote.

“It is more than four years since MH370’s last flight, and secrecy – military or otherwise – can’t any longer be reason to hold back information. A new government with a forensic eye and a new broom could throw light on possible cover-ups, falsification and wilful destruction of records, if any.”

The sister of MH370 captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, Dah Ahmadshah, says she hopes Anthony Loke will look at details that she says have been ignored in the official investigation into the disappearance of MH370.

“He needs to ensure all the eye witnesses’ reports from Terengganu and Kelantan and their sworn statements are included.”

Dah says Loke needs to consider the statements by Katherine Tee, a British woman who was sailing from India to Thailand with her husband when she saw what appeared to be a large aircraft on fire on the morning that MH370 disappeared; locals in the Maldives who say they saw a low-flying jet that fit the description of MH370 on the same day; data provided by the independent investigator, Sergio Cavaiuolo; and raw data from air traffic control and MH370 – “the unedited version, not photocopies”.

A proper investigation, Dah says, “would not believe in satellite info alone”.

Dah says she is not surprised that the plane has not been found. She says the investigators need to consider whether they may have been wrong all along in their interpretation of the satellite data from Inmarsat that led to the search for MH370 being carried out in the southern Indian Ocean.

Anwar offers hope

It is the opposition political icon, Anwar Ibrahim, who was released from jail one week after the opposition Pakatan Harapan coalition defeated the ruling coalition in a shock victory, who is offering the most hope to next-of-kin.

Anwar, who is due eventually to take over as prime minister told The Weekend Australian that he would ensure that his new government would conduct a full review of internal documents related to Malaysian radar information about MH370’s movements and the failure of three separate monitoring systems – air traffic control, the air force, and Malaysia Airlines – to quickly raise the alarm.

He is also concerned about the discrepancies in MH370’s cargo manifest.

“This is local information in which we can do further digging. Then perhaps we can reopen communications with the international bodies with our new information,” Anwar told journalist Amanda Hodge.

“The radar could speak volumes. Was it a failure of the system? Was it a failure of those monitoring the system or was it an intention to ignore or cover up? To me, that is still to be determined.

“I am not ruling out further searches in the future depending on what these domestic investigations bring up.”

Narendran says that Anwar is by far the clearest among Malaysian politicians about what needs to be done by way of an internal review about MH370.

“It may not shed light on a new search area, but it might highlight lapses, fix responsibility, identify additional preventive measures, and help settle the festering dissatisfaction surrounding the search, rescue and recovery,” Narendran wrote recently on Facebook.

“What we have are mixed signals, but what is actionable are I guess Cabinet decisions. Can Anwar prevail?”

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Blaming the pilot

Despite the distress being caused to relatives of the Zaharie Ahmad Shah, many journalists and authors continue to hype the theory that he was responsible for MH370’s disappearance – that he ditched the plane into the southern Indian Ocean.

It is a theory that is not backed up by evidence. To the contrary, there is in evidence that the plane was not ditched by someone at the controls. The wing flap found on the Tanzanian island of Pemba in June 2016, which is believed to be from MH370, was retracted, for instance.

American amateur investigator Blaine Alan Gibson, who has found numerous pieces of plane debris, says that if there had been a controlled suicide-glide ditching, that wing flap would have been deployed.

The wing flap found on Pemba Island, which the Malaysian authorities say has been confirmed to be from MH370.

Zaharie, his co-pilot, the rest of the crew, and the passengers on board MH370 have all been cleared by two separate independent criminal investigations in Malaysia and France, Gibson points out.

In Gibson’s view, the fuselage of MH370 is not intact underwater. “I and other private citizens have found many small shattered pieces of cabin debris,” he said.

A recent and much-criticised, but much-publicised “60 Minutes” documentary in Australia gave a great deal of airplay to the theory that Zaharie ditched the plane.

Dah Ahmadshah described the documentary as yet more bullying of her family and “torture and torment for relatives”.

Oceanographer says ‘search further’

Both the previous search zone scoured by the Australia-led team and the priority area searched by Ocean Infinity are located along a 7th arc that was defined according to calculations by Inmarsat that were based on satellite pings – or handshakes – from MH370.

Inmarsat said that MH370 was most likely to be found along this 7th arc, but there are those who have cast doubt on the company’s conclusions and Inmarsat itself said it could not be 100 percent sure that its analysis was correct.

Oceanographer Charitha Pattiaratchi, from the University of Western Australia in Perth,  identified an area stretching from 33°S up to 28° S, which is north of the 25,000-kilometre priority zone, as the most likely crash location.

Commenting on Ocean Infinity’s failure to find the plane, having searched that area, he said: “The drift modelling and the oceanography says it is in the area of the 7th arc. Both of the data sets are compatible. However, the oceanography is not very accurate to pinpoint an exact location.

“I believe that there will be another search in the future and, if they look wider than the area they have already searched, they will find the crash site.”

Accident declaration

In January 2015, the Malaysian government officially declared flight MH370 an accident in accordance with the Standards of Annexes 12 and 13 to the Chicago Convention, and stated that all 239 of the passengers and crew on board the plane were presumed to have lost their lives.

Chapter 1 of Annex 13 to the Convention on International Civil Aviation states that the definition of the term “accident” includes “the aircraft is missing”. It also states that “an aircraft is considered to be missing when the official search has been terminated and the wreckage has not been located”.

Update 1/6/2018

Ocean Infinity continued to deploy AUVs overnight. With AUV recovery, scan checks, and possible further deployments, it looks like the search will now continue into next week.

Update 4/6/2018

Grace Subathirai Nathan has received an email from Ocean Infinity in which the company says that it will continue searching along the 7th arc to cover the areas suggested by the Independent Group of international aviation and data experts until June 8.

Ocean Infinity told Nathan that the company hopes to participate in a future search.

On June 8, Seabed Constructor is due to head for the port of Dampier in northwestern Australia.

Representatives of the family support group Voice370 have meanwhile had a meeting with Malaysia’s transport minister, Anthony Loke.

The next-of-kin report that the minister has given an assurance that, if Ocean Infinity finds MH370, the Malaysian government will be open to discussions about compensation.

Loke also said that the Malaysian government would be open to future “no cure, no fee” searches for MH370, subject to the Cabinet’s approval.

The official ‘no cure, no fee” contract between the Malaysian government and Ocean Infinity ended on May 29.

Nathan said: “We are grateful to the Malaysian transport minister for agreeing to meet with us within a week of our requesting a meeting.

“We are also very grateful to Ocean Infinity for their dedication.”

Loke said after the meeting that he had reiterated to the next-of-kin the government’s “unwavering commitment” to seek answers in the investigation of “this unfortunate tragedy”.

He said he had given the families his “utmost assurance and guarantee” of a full, thorough, and independent final report by the Malaysian ICAO Annex 13 Safety Investigation Team for MH370 when the team publishes its report in July this year.

“I  also gave my word to the families that a detailed briefing regarding the report will be held for them before the report is made public,” Loke added. 

“We would also like to reiterate that the aspiration to locate MH370 will never be abandoned and we remain ever hopeful that new information and credible evidence will come to light and that, at some point in the future, the aircraft will be located.”

Loke said he understood that it had been a trying 50 months for the loved-ones of the passengers and crew of MH370.

“Our thoughts and prayers will always be with the families and loved-ones of the passengers and crew on board flight MH370.