A private firm's ship is en route to a search area off the west coast of Australia, aiming to locate the wreckage of the passenger jet that vanished in 2014.
A year after the official search for Malaysian Airlines MH370 was terminated, the Malaysian government has employed a private company to continue the seabed sweep in the Southern Indian Ocean.
US-based ocean exploration company Ocean Infinity has been guaranteed $20 million if it can locate the wreckage of the lost passenger jet, and the bounty could swell as high as $70 million depending on the scale of the search.
After the agreement was signed in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday, Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai said the government was desperate to find the wreckage “as soon as possible,” to “bring some closure” to the families of the 239 people who were on board.
It is a ‘no-find, no-fee’ agreement though, and considering more than 120,000 square kilometres of seafloor and millions of square kilometres of ocean surface were scoured over three years to no avail, that is a distinct possibility.
The plan is to comb a 25,000 square kilometre area north-east of the unsuccessful search. In the Australian Transport Safety Bureau’s final report in October, it said it had narrowed down the final resting place to those ocean depths, approximately 10,000 miles off the west coast of Australia.
Ocean Infinity’s vessel, the Seabed Constructor, has already begun its journey from Durban to the targeted zone. The maximum 90-day search will begin on Wednesday, January 17, taking advantage of the calmer seas at this time of year.
It will deploy eight unmanned submarines, known as autonomous underwater drones, which makes it capable of scanning 1,200km per day.
Scientist and MH370 researcher Victor Iannello has been in communication with Ocean Infinity CEO Oliver Plunkett in the lead up to the mission, and he told News.com.au that there was cause for optimism.
“Past efforts to scan the seabed for the debris field have used sonar sensors located in a single tow fish that was dragged behind a ship and glided about 100m above the seabed,” he said.
“Ocean Infinity’s approach is to use a team of eight autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), each one equipped with sonar sensors. Using multiple vehicles drastically increases the amount of seabed that can be scanned each day.
“The excellent manoeuvrability of the autonomous vehicles, which are essentially underwater drones, also make them more efficient at scanning mountainous structures on the sea floor.”
Ocean Infinity’s shareholders will foot the bill of the search if it comes up empty-handed, but Plunkett is confident his team can solve one of aviation’s greatest mysteries by locating the plane.
“The ability to operate untethered independent missions allows the AUVs to go deeper and collect higher quality data, making this technology ideal for the search,” the Ocean Infinity press release states.
Flight 370 went missing without explanation en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur on March 8, 2014.
You can follow Seabed Constructor’s journey on the live map at MarineTraffic.com.