The mother-ship to be used in Ocean Infinity’s high-tech search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 has quietly set sail from Durban, South Africa, on its way to the Southern Indian Ocean.
Website Vessel Finder put the Seabed Constructor off the coast of Africa Wednesday morning with its destination listed as ”Perth” on February 7.
It is expected to be at the search site ready to begin high-tech sweeps about January 15-16.
Neither the company nor the Malaysian government has announced a final deal for the “no find, no fee” search but it is understood to be in train.
A company spokesman said: “Ocean Infinity is hopeful of receiving the final contract award for the resumption of the search for MH370 over the coming days.
“With a relatively narrow weather window, we are moving the vessel, Seabed Constructor, towards the vicinity of the possible search zone.
“This is designed to save time should the contract award be forthcoming, as hoped. We will confirm as and when the contract is awarded and the search can resume.”
Ocean Infinity champions a system that uses 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’’.
The company’s website says it uses six autonomous underwater vehicles but sources have told AirlineRatings the MH370 would use eight.
“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.
A story in The Economist said the US company was keen to take advantage of the summer weather and expected to survey 1200 sq. km a day.
The search will begin in a 25,000 sq. km area around 35°S designated by experts in 2016 as the most likely crash site.
Drift modeling and analysis of satellite imagery significantly boosted confidence among Australian experts that the wreckage of the Boeing 777, which went missing in March 2014, is in the southern half of a 25,000 sq. km.
Scientists identified a location at latitude 35.6°S and longitude 92.8°E, near the seventh arc defined by satellite data, as the most likely location for the missing plane.
However, if the wreckage is not found in the 25,000 sq. km search area the vessel will head north to an area around 30°S proposed by independent experts.
AirlineRatings revealed in October that the Malaysians were planning to resume the search with Ocean Infinity tipped as the winning bid. The MH370 Response team later confirmed to families of victims this was the case.
The team said it had looked at “several proposals” from interested parties including an offer by Ocean infinity to conduct the search on a no-find, no-fee basis.
“These offers have been thoroughly assessed by the team and the Governments of Australia and China have been informed of this in line with the spirit of tripartite cooperation,’’ it said. .
“In this regard, the Government of Malaysia has given the permission for the response team to proceed to negotiate the terms and conditions with Ocean Infinity.”
However, the company was still awaiting the final contract award prior to Christmas.