MH370 search enters ‘new phase’; underwater scouring on hold

Kuala Lumpur: Malaysia today announced the start of a “new phase” in the search for the crashed Flight MH370, including a bathymetric survey of the Indian Ocean seabed, even as the underwater scouring for the wreckage of the plane was put on hold due to technical issues.

Acting transport minister Hishammuddin Hussein said the government has set three main priorities which include re- analysing of all verified data, conducting of a bathymetric survey of the seabed and also identifying and deploying the relevant towed and autonomous underwater vehicles required for the terrain in the “new phase” of search operations.

“It is important the bathymetric survey and deep water search needs to be seamless,” he was quoted as saying by The New Strait Times.

The Beijing-bound Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 – carrying 239 people, including five Indians, an Indo-Canadian and 154 Chinese nationals – had mysteriously vanished on March 8 after taking off from Kuala Lumpur.

“From the Tripartite Ministerial meeting, we have also agreed to conduct weekly conferences via video tele- conferencing between representatives of the three nations to discuss the latest developments regarding the search operations,” Hishammuddin said in a press conference here, adding that the exercise will commence next Monday.

He also said a comprehensive bathymetric survey will be undertaken so that experts can understand the sea bed terrain to ensure the autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) and deep water towed side scan sonars which are very expensive and scarce, will be safely deployed.

Hishammuddin said commercial assets from Malaysia and China will also be assigned for operations in this new phase where Malaysia has acquired related assets from Petronas, SapuraKencara, Boustead and Deftech.

In the event of finding the final resting place of MH370, or identification of debris related to the flight, the three nations have agreed that any visit by the next of kin will take place between two to four weeks upon confirmation, he said.

Meanwhile, autonomous underwater vehicle Bluefin 21, a US Navy probe equipped with side-scan sonar and the transponder were damaged this week when the vehicle was being hoisted onto the deck of the ship.

The vehicle struck the navigation transponder, which extends over the side of the ship, US Navy’s deputy director of ocean engineering Michael Dean was quoted as saying by CNN.

 No spare parts for either device were on the ship, Dean said, adding that parts necessary for the repairs are being shipped from the United Kingdom to Australia.

Australia’s Joint Agency Coordination Agency (JACC) blamed “communications problems” for the aborted mission.

“Examination of the communications problem has established that a hardware defect exists in the transponder mounted on the Ocean Shield and a defect may also exist in the transponder mounted on the Bluefin-21,” the JACC said.

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