The search for the missing Malaysian Airlines MH370 aircraft is set to continue later this month with confirmation that a vessel left the Port of Durban in South Africa headed for Perth, Australia.

The vessel, named Seabed Constructor, is the most advanced civilian survey vessel in the world, The Economist reported, suggesting that if its array of technology cannot find MH370, then it is likely that nothing will. Thus, leaving the mystery of MH370 unsolved until some more advanced technology is developed in future.

Seabed Constructor is a Norwegian research vessel, built in 2014 and owned by Swire Seabed, a dredging and surveying firm in Bergen. It has been leased by US-based seabed exploration firm Ocean Infinity to look for the missing Boeing 777 which is believed to have ended in a watery grave in the Southern Indian Ocean almost four years ago.

Australia, China and Malaysia, which jointly coordinated and funded the search operation led by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), announced in January 2017 that it had called off the A$220 million (RM700 million) search for MH370.

The failed search run by the ATSB scoured 120,000sq km of the southern Indian Ocean, which automatic satellite tracking data indicates MH370 came down.

The ATSB released a 440-page final report on the unsuccessful search for flight MH370 on Oct 3, where it had concluded that the reasons for the loss of the aircraft could not be established with certainty until the aircraft was found.

‘No find, no fee’ proposal

Last November, reports emerged of a new search and that the Malaysian government was in negotiations with Ocean Infinity, which had offered a “no find, no fee” proposal.

The offer was said to be too good to refuse by the three governments as they would only make any payment if the aircraft is found.

On Nov 16, the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) director-general Azharuddin Abdul Rahman was reported to have said that the Malaysian government was negotiating terms with Ocean Infinity.

Putrajaya was also expected to make a decision after a meeting that was to be held between Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai and his counterparts from Australia and China last month.

However, according to the financial publication, there is still no contract as yet.

“Oliver Plunkett, Ocean Infinity’s boss, has decided to go ahead anyway, to take advantage of the window of good weather that opens in the southern Indian Ocean in January and February,” The Economist said.

The new search area, 25,000 square kilometres of seafloor chosen by investigators from the ATSB, is just north of the old one.

It is believed that the vessel and its eight HUGIN autonomous underwater vehicles will enhance the search capabilities far beyond the capabilities of previous vessels used by the ATSB in its search.

“Ocean Infinity aims to cover the ground much faster than Fugro did. The search will be able to scan 1,200 kilometres a day,” the company’s technical director, Josh Broussard, told The Economist, referring to the company hired by the ATSB for the previous search.

According to The Economist, based on such a rate, the original search would have been completed in less than four months compared with the 30 months it eventually took.

The Seabed Constructor is expected to reach the starting point of the near search area, in two weeks.

It was reported that if the search in the new area proves unsuccessful, then the ship will head further north, which seems to be favoured by some independent experts as a more likely area where the plane could have gone down.

On March 8, 2014, MH370 left the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) en route to Beijing with 239 passengers and crew members on board.

The last contact made with the aircraft was over the South China Sea. The aircraft is then believed to have made a turnaround over Peninsular Malaysia before it ended in the southern Indian Ocean, about 2,000km off the coast of Western Australia.

It has become one of, if not, the world’s greatest aviation mystery.-FMT

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