Hunt for MH370 to be tendered to private contractors

May 26, 2014 - via Joint Agency Coordination Centre

KUALA LUMPUR — The search for missing flight MH370 will rope in the services and more sophisticated equipment of private contractors by way of a tender.

What the authorities are seeking, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal, is a contractor who will coordinate an expanded undersea search of a remote patch of the Indian Ocean covering 60,000 sq km.

The contractor will be responsible for bringing together ships, crew and technology to look for the missing jetliner.

The tender documents will outline basic information, including the area to be explored, the fee and the time frame for the search. It was up to the private contractors to devise their own strategies to find the plane.

Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott said last month that the expanded underwater search would cost around A$60 million (S$69 million).

However, this estimate includes the cost of mapping the seafloor, which means the budget available to a private contractor to carry out the subsea search would be less.

Separately, authorities are said to be close to signing up a privately-owned deep sea survey vessel to produce bathymetric maps of the ocean floor approximately 1,000 miles (1,609km) north-west of Perth where they believe the plane crashed.

This new ship would work with the Chinese survey vessel Zhu Kezhen, which has already begun mapping the area.

The survey is likely to take two to three months to complete.

The maps will allow towed sonar equipment to be deployed without the risk of it banging into undersea ridges and mountains.

The Australian naval vessel Ocean Shield is due to give up the search on Wednesday (May 28), having scoured a narrow area close to where it detected electronic signals on four occasions early last month.

Authorities believed those transmissions were consistent with locator beacons on an aircraft’s black box flight recorders, raising hopes of a breakthrough in the hunt for Flight 370, which went missing en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur on March 8 with 239 people on board.

Commander James Lybrand, who captained the Ocean Shield through last month, told The Wall Street Journal this month that the Bluefin-21 submersible drone used in the search so far had faced difficulty navigating crevasses up to 70m deep and depths that dropped more than 5,000m.

The introduction of a private contractor aims to overcome these obstacles with more sophisticated equipment.

Companies in the marine salvage and oil and gas sectors could take part in the search, along with nonprofit research organisations.

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Phoenix International are potential candidates after helping on the deep sea recovery of the black boxes and debris from Air France Flight 447, which crashed in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean in 2009.

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