Families of MH370 victims have urged the Malaysian, Chinese and Australian governments to take up an offer by a private firm to continue the search for the missing aircraft on a no-find, no-fee basis.
The offer, revealed by independent expert Victor Iannello, would see US exploration company Ocean Infinity use a collection of underwater drones to sweep the search area now thought most likely to contain the wreckage of MH370.
They would be paid only if they find the wreckage and while there are no details about what that would entail, it is understood the company is not seeking excessive compensation outside the realms of normal commercial expectations.
The Malaysia Airlines flight’s disappearance in March, 2014, remains one of aviation’s great mysteries and the new offer ramps up pressure on the Malaysian government to restart the search.
Deputy Malaysian Transport Minister Aziz Kaprawi confirmed to Reuters that authorities had received the offer but said no decision had been made on whether it would be accepted.
MH370 victim group Voice370 said news of the search offer and a narrowed search area made the lack of communications from the governmen5ts involved “very distressing for family members whose agony festers’’.
“Family members have been holding in abeyance their plans to proceed with a privately-funded search with the hope that the Malaysian Government (and its search partners) will respond favourably and expeditiously to what appears as a very fair offer presented to it at this opportune moment,’’ the group said in a statement.
A CSIRO report released in April concluded a region in the Southern Indian Ocean near the so-called seventh arc and latitude 35°S was the likely resting place of the airliner.
The finding was consistent with findings in 2016 by a group of international experts that the airliner is probably in a 25,000 sq. km area north of where the plane was originally thought to be.
A CSIRO team led by Dr David Griffin has since made further refinements and narrowed down the prospective search area after looking more closely at an ocean current flowing towards the northwest in the weeks after the crash.
A two-year sweep of the original 120,000 sq, km. search area failed to find any signs of the wreckage and was ended by the Malaysian, Australian and Chinese governments in January amid criticism it was abandoned too soon.
Transport Ministers from the three countries said the search would not be resumed unless there was credible new information which could be used to identify the aircraft’s position, although they failed to define what this meant.
Ocean Infinity uses six HUGIN autonomous underwater vehicles capable of operating at depths of up to 6000m to collect high-resolution data at what it says are “record-breaking speeds’’.
Six unmanned surface vehicles accompany the underwater drones to ensure precise positioning and constant communication.
“With multiple autonomous vehicles working simultaneously utilizing innovative technology, we are able to survey huge swathes of the seabed, quickly and with outstanding accuracy,’’ the company’s website says.
Voice370 said the governments had an obligation under ICAO rules to find the plane as well as make public offers by government or private organisations in relation to the search.
They were also obliged to bring closure to family members’ “continued suffering at heart”.
Iannello described the prospect of exploiting Ocean Infinity’s technology as “great news”.
“That means that Malaysia, Australia, and China need to make a decision: Either the tripartite countries should provide funds to re-start the search; or, the countries should fully cooperate with Ocean Infinity and other qualified entities that are interested in re-starting the search,’’ he said.
“Any other action is unacceptable.”
Australian Transport Minister Darren Chester said the decision was Malaysia’s.
“Malaysia, as the state of registry for the aircraft, retains overall authority for any future search and any questions regarding possible future search efforts should be directed there,’’ he said. “Australia stands ready to assist the Malaysian Government in any way it can.”