MH370 search to be privatized: Australian coordinators

Updated: 2014-06-04 13:55


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SYDNEY - Three months after Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 vanished without a trace, search coordinators in Australia, Wednesday, released a request for tender to continue the as yet unsuccessful deep-water search in the Southern Ocean.

Sources close to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) Wednesday told Xinhua that a request for tender will be made to acquire the services of a specialist company capable of the challenging deep water search, with the US navy's Bluefin 21 winding up its involvement within the month.

According to the ATSB, engaged as a prime contractor, the company will provide the expertise, equipment and vessel(s) necessary to undertake an intensified underwater search for the missing Boeing 777 aircraft in the defined zone in the southern Ocean.

Last week the Joint Agency Co-ordination Center (JACC) said the missing Malaysia Airlines plane was not in the Indian Ocean search zone where acoustic "pings" had raised hopes of a breakthrough on April 7.

When the Australian navy's Ocean Shield reported two acoustic signals, with one held for more than two hours -- followed two days later with two more signals held for five minutes to seven minutes -- the Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced the last of many false dawns with his speech to parliament that he was 'very confident' the searchers had located the black box.

It was not to be.

MH370 went missing on March 8 about one hour into a night flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

"The Australian Transport Safety Bureau has advised that the search in the vicinity of the acoustic detections can now be considered complete and, in its professional judgment, the area can now be discounted as the final resting place of MH370."

The command center for the hunt moved from Perth in Western Australia to Canberra -- further from the scene of the action and a tacit suggestion that hopes of an imminent breakthrough have faded.

The best chance searchers had of locating any debris ended after 30 days (the limit of battery life for beacons on a black box, or flight recorders) of fruitless hunting deep in the Southern Ocean.

The lease that authorities have on the US Navy-owned underwater robot Bluefin-21, ends in another month and while the search team points out that at least 400 square kilometers of muddy-seabed have been excluded -- continuing the hunt over the entire 56,000 sq km area will more than likely take several years.

While the precise search zone is currently being established by an international search strategy working group, it is expected that the successful tenderer will now search an area up to 60,000 square kilometers based on the 'seventh handshake' arc where the aircraft last communicated with the Inmarsat satellite. Definition of the search zone will be finalized within two weeks to three weeks.

According to the ATSB, the successful tenderer will localize, positively identify and map the debris field of MH370 using specialist equipment such as towed and autonomous underwater vehicles with mounted sonar and/or optical imaging systems.

The intensified search will begin in August 2014 and is expected to take up to 12 months, depending on weather conditions. The successful tenderer will use the data from a bathymetric survey (already underway) to navigate the search zone, which has water depth between 1,000 meters and 6,000 meters.

Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 left Kuala Lumpur for Beijing and vanished after losing contact with air traffic control on 8 March 2014, less than an hour after takeoff.

The Boeing 777-200ER, was carrying 12 Malaysian crew-members and 227 passengers from 14 nations.

Despite a multinational search and rescue effort -- the largest and most expensive marine search ever undertaken -- there has been no confirmation of any flight debris and no crash site has been found.