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US MH370 search team sets sail ahead of contract signing – reports

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While a contract has not been signed, a private US “crack team” gung-ho on solving the disappearance of flight MH370 has set off to the search zone, according to reports.

“So keen are the people who run Ocean Infinity to get started that this week they ordered the captain of the vessel they have leased, the Seabed Constructor owned by the Swire group, to set sail from Durban in South Africa for the new search zone, even though a final contract with the Malaysian government has yet to be signed,” wrote The Australian this morning.

Additionally, Reuters yesterday reported the vessel set sail on Tuesday and was headed to Perth, according to the agency's shipping data.

Yesterday, AFP reported Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai as saying the contract with Ocean Infinity would be signed next week in Kuala Lumpur.

The minister added the firm would be engaged on “no find, no fee” basis, which means the team will only be paid if they find the missing craft.

According to The Australian, Deputy Transport Minister Abdul Aziz Kaprawi gave some indication of the size of the deal in October, when he was reported saying cabinet had agreed “to prepare a special allocation to the Transport MInistry amounting to between $US20 million and $US70 million (RM296.35 million) if MH370 aircraft wreckage is successfully found within 90 days.”

Flight MH370, carrying 239 people, disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing in March 2014. Australia, China and Malaysia ended a fruitless search of the Indian Ocean to the west of Australia, in January last year.

The Australian's feature article described the Ocean Infinity group as “a crack international team of engineers, information technology experts, hydrographic surveyors, underwater robot submarine experts and others.”

It quoted scientist David Griffin, who had worked on projecting MH370's crash point, was reported as saying, “It’s a very impressive organisation. They have got terrific equipment.”

Ocean Infinity plans to use eight AUVs at a time on independent search missions, enabling it to scan the seabed for MH370 much faster than in the first search, said The Australian.

Location narrowed down

Griffin, a Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) drift-modelling scientist, who led a project commissioned to work out where MH370 came down based on where a few bits of the aircraft were washed up on the other side of the Indian Ocean, met Ocean Infinity representatives in London last month to brief them on the first search.

The report said the plan is to look for the ill-fated plane in a new 25,000sq km zone immediately to the north of the previous one.

“It was, in fact, the ATSB and a panel of Australian and international experts including Griffin who had identified this zone as promising even before the old search had been brought to an end.”

These were based on three main clues.

First, said the daily, were the hourly electronic “handshakes” to Inmarsat that indicate where the plane possibly went down, and second, the debris found off Africa that enabled detailed drift modelling.

The latter study, it said, determined that the aircraft came down just north of the completed search area.

A third clue appeared in August last year when four satellite images of what could be debris, taken two weeks after MH370 went missing, were reexamined.

The studies prompted the narrowing of the area to two narrow strips, no larger than 10km to 30km each.

“Their report places the likeliest location of the aircraft 'with unprecedented precision and certainty' at 35.6 degrees south, 92.8 degrees east,” it said, quoting Geo­science Australia and the CSIRO.

Because Ocean Infinity thinks it can survey 1,200sq km a day using the eight AUVs, the maths work out that the 25,000sq km search zone could be covered in three weeks, it added.

Griffin was reportedly optimistic of success in finding the missing plane in the new area, saying, “We think there is a very good chance.

“If you are prepared to take the risk and search, this is the most likely place. How likely, I can’t estimate.”

Meanwhile, it was also reported an email, sent from the MH Family Support Centre and seen by Reuters, informing the families the Malaysian government had accepted Ocean Infinity's offer.

A government spokesperson declined to confirm that an email had been sent to families but said more details on the deal would be forthcoming. Ocean Infinity did not immediately respond to requests for comment, said Reuters.

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