The search for missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 has resumed after a research ship left South Africa, bound for a search area off the coast of Perth.
The Malaysian Government has enlisted US seabed exploration company Ocean Infinity, which chartered Norwegian ship Seabed Constructor, due to arrive in Perth on February 7 after it set sail from Port Durban on Tuesday.
The company has a “no find, no fee” agreement with the Malaysian government, but if it locates the missing plane in the first 90 days of the search it will reportedly earn a fee of $90 million.
The Malaysian Airlines flight disappeared on March 8 2014, en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, with 239 people on board, sparking the largest search in aviation history.
Australian, Chinese and Malaysian officials decided to suspend the search for the plane in January 2017 after a sonar search of a 120,000 square-kilometre section of the Indian Ocean.
Ocean Infinity has offered to look for the missing Boeing 777 aircraft on a ‘no-find, no-fee’ basis, although Malaysia has yet to sign off on the company’s final multi-million dollar fee.
Dutch firm Fugro, which conducted the first search, used equipment including an autonomous submarine.
Seabed Constructor carries eight such submarines, with Ocean Infinity reporting in October it had launched six simultaneously and up to a depth of 5.2km.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) published its final report into the search in October, saying it was a matter of regret that regret that “we have not been able to locate the aircraft, nor those 239 souls on board that remain missing.”
The ATSB said debris found on islands in the Indian Ocean and on the coast of Africa helped establish that the aircraft was “not configured for a ditching at the end-of-flight”.
Theories about the loss of the plane have included terrorism, an onboard fire or decompression, or ill intent from flight staff in the cockpit.
Recent re-analysis of satellite imagery taken two weeks after the aircraft disappeared had also identified objects which may have been debris from MH370, it found.
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CSIRO’s David Griffin says he’s never been “so completely consumed by a scientific question” as he has during the MH370 search.
“It is almost inconceivable and certainly societally unacceptable in the modern aviation era with 10 million passengers boarding commercial aircraft every day, for a large commercial aircraft to be missing and for the world not to know with certainty what became of the aircraft and those on board,” the report said.
However, the ATSB said reasons for the loss of the aircraft “cannot be established with certainty until the aircraft is found”.
On July 29, 2015, a right wing flaperon from the aircraft was found on Reunion Island.
Another piece – bearing the text “no step” – was discovered in March this year by Blaine Gibson off the coast of Mozambique, while in December 2015 Liam Lotter discovered a grey fragment on a beach in southern Mozambique.
Since then various smaller items of debris from inside the plane have been found washed up.
Australia has agreed to provide technical assistance to the Malaysian Government and Ocean Infinity but will not be contributing cash.