Images have emerged from the high-tech underwater robots being used by Ocean Infinity to scour the seabed for the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.
The images show two areas of interest identified in the initial search by a formation of up to eight Hugin autonomous underwater vehicles but which turned out to be geological formations.
The torpedo-shaped Hugins come with an arsenal of sensors that include side scan sonar, multi-beam echo sounder, sub-bottom profiler, HD camera, conductivity/temperature/depth sensor, self-compensating magnetometer, synthetic aperture sonar and a turbidity sensor.
They can remain submerged for 60 hours and between them scour up to 1200 sq. km a day at depths of up 6000m.
The high-tech mothership conducting the search, the Seabed Constructor, left the search area February 4 to head back to Fremantle after sweeping the areas identified by a CSIRO drift study as most likely to contain the wreckage.
It is expected to berth in an area south of the West Australian port on February 8 for a crew change and resupply before heading back out to sea on February 12 to resume the search.
The MH370 Response Team said 7500 sq. km of the 25,000 sq, km identified in the Australian Transport Safety Bureau’s final report on the original search had been swept by the time the ship departed.
The Seabed Constructor began the search January 21 and uses eight Hugin autonomous underwater vehicles to scour the seabed.
“Two points of interest (POI) had been identified from the AUVs missions and upon further investigation, these POI’s were classified as geological,’’ the report said.
The report makes no mention of the three-day loss of a satellite tracking signal that triggered wild speculation among some media outlets about its cause.
Seabed Constructor first swept the area to the east of the seventh arc defined by a final satellite handshake and containing a position thought by CSIRO scientists to be the most likely location of the aircraft.
It then moved to cover an area to the west of the arc containing two points through to be less likely options before returning to the original search area.
It was at this point the satellite-based Automatic Identification System appeared to drop out. It later reactivated as the ship was heading towards Fremantle.
Ocean Infinity has a “no find, no fee” deal with the Malaysian government.
This sees it paid $US20 million if the debris is found in the 5000 sq. km primary search area, $US30m in the 10,000 sq, km secondary zone and $US50m in the 10,000 sq, km tertiary area.
The three zones make up the 25,000 sq.m area defined by the ATSB and other experts.
OI will get $US70m if it locates the wreckage in outside that 25,000 sq, km zone and a number of experts have suggested this is where it is.
The University of Western Australia’s Professor Charitha Pattiaratchi said last year that its drift modelling put the location of MH370 “at Longitude 96.5° E Latitude 32.5° S with a 40km radius.”
Some members of the Independent Group believe it may be even further north and a map on the Malaysian update identifies two “site extensions”, one of which ranges north of 29° S.