The search effort for the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 was resumed on January 22, 2018, but after 10 days into the search, the high-tech search vessel named Seabed Constructor went “blackout” on the radar for three days with no explanation. “Blackout” again?
Here are 12 things you need to know about the search vessel disappearance shenanigan and the search development of the missing flight which recorded a loss of 239 souls on 8 March 2014 after it en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
1. “No cure, no fee” basis search contract with Taxes-based exploration company, Ocean Infinity
Malaysia government has signed on a “no cure, no fee” contract with Taxes-based exploration company, Ocean Infinity, earlier this year for US$20m to $70m (approx. RM78m to RM274m), with the final payout being dependent on the amount of area searched.
Ocean Infinity has 90 days to search a total of 25,000-square-kilometre area and locate the MH370’s wreckage and/or its flight recorders, the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) and flight data recorder (FDR).
If the company fails to salvage any of it after 90 days, it will not receive a single cent from the Malaysia government. Big gamble here.
Earlier this year on January 22, Ocean Infinity deployed their highly technological advanced search vessel, Seabed Constructor, in the Southern Indian Ocean. But 10 days into its operation, its Automatic Identification System (AIS) went offline for approximately 80 hours (or 3 days). The vessel went off-radar on Thursday (Feb 1) and it came back online on Saturday (Feb 3). It’s currently en route to Fremantle, West Australia, for refuel.
2. Who is on Seabed Constructor search vessel?
Seabed Constructor has a total of 65 crew, including two Royal Malaysian Navy representatives which are tasked to provide daily reports to the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) on the search.
KS Narendran, a family member of a missing victim boarding MH370, said he wished there is a third-party entity onboard in the Seabed Constructor.
“There are no journalists and no family members on board the search ship. I wish there were some… We watch on in good faith. I hope ongoing official disclosure is of such a high order that there is little room for speculation, controversy or a whiff of conspiracy,” he said in disappointment.
3. Conspiracy theory suggests Seabed Constructor took a detour and went to look for shipwreck treasure
Source: News AU
Since the disappearance of the vessel, people around the world had weighed in to guess why the vessel had turned off its AIS for three days. Out of all the conspiracy theories, one particularly stood out the most. According to News AU, some experts speculated the vessel had taken a secret detour to a 100-year-old shipwreck spot.
Mike Chillit, an author who has written about the disappearance of MH370, theorized that Seabed Constructor may have headed to the location where SV Inca, a Peruvian-built transport ship, wrecked and submerged into the ocean in 1911.
What? Search mission turns treasure hunt?
Last year January, the prior search vessel, Havila Harmony, stumbled across the shipwreck almost four kilometres below the surface inside the 7th Arc. The vessel’s underwater drone had mistaken the wreckage to MH370’s fuselage.
4. “Highly unlikely,” say experts and urge people to stop spreading rumours
Upon hearing the bizarre Seabed Constructor’s change of objective, Kevin Rupp, a precision machinist who has been publicly tracking the search vessel, said it’s highly unlikely.
“I have nothing polite to say about those who are spreading rumours that Seabed Constructor was really on a treasure hunt,” said Rupp, adding that this conspiracy is merely a guesswork.
A logical explanation that debunks the conspiracy theory suggests that the operation to search for lost treasure is paradoxical because Ocean Infinity is in a do-or-die situation with a strict 90-day deadline to find MH370.
“I don’t see the point of OI going to have a look at the shipwreck now. They have a 90-day window, Malaysian ‘observers’ on board and a target: #MH370. They can look at it after the search if interested,” aviation buff Juan Valcarcel said.
That sounds about right. Remeber the two Royal Malaysian Navy representatives onboard we mentioned earlier?
5. Rupp says the move to turn off AIS is because they don’t want people to speculate that they have found MH370
Kevin Rupp said for Seabed Constructor to search for ocean deep wreckage, the vessel has to stay motionless for a long time and allow submersible crafts (picture) to dive down for a thorough check.
“One scenario for the AIS is that it was turned off because Seabed Constructor was looking at possible targets in areas that were already searched. Another is that they don’t wish to be tracked anymore for whatever reason.
“She is coming from an area that was already scanned except for a small bit. She turned her AIS off while examining the area which was previously scanned. There must have been something of great interest there.”
“I believe they may have turned the AIS transmitter to low power mode to prevent us from speculating that they had found something and causing undue distress for the next of kin,” he said when speaking to Guardian.
6. The AIS transmitter was turned off for privacy.
Pilot Mike Exner took on Twitter to add on to the argument stating that there could be myriad of reasons why they did so, considering that they are still a commercial company.
“The AIS transmitter was turned off for privacy. It was not a malfunction. Privacy does not necessarily imply something was detected. We need to be patient and see what happens without speculation.”
“There is nothing suspicious about it. OI may have commercial (proprietary) reasons specific to what they are doing now. Trade secrets, etc. Other reasons also possible. Debris detection is only one possibility of many.”
7. Scientist believes that Seabed Constructor was merely rechecking the area in those three days
Source: The Star
Maybe we can take it from a scientist. Richard Cole, a space scientist at University College London, said that that the search vessel may have spent the three days in the south-east corner of the search area for rechecking to assure that they didn’t miss anything, Guardian reports.
8. “Whatever strategy you have now…(it’s a) wrong one”
No longer able to handle the conspiracy theories and rumours, Air Investigation urged the company: “Whatever strategy you have now, Ocean Infinity, wrong one. Request your vessel Seabed Constructor turn on its AIS… Otherwise, you create a vacuum quickly filled by idiots/ speculation.”
The aviation blogging site cited Richard Cole, Mike Exner, and Kevin Rubb as conspiracists and wished Ocean Infinity to release an explanation statement quickly before the speculations go out of hand.
9. Family members of the victims demand transparency from Ocean Infinity and Malaysia government.
Of course, the disappearance of the vessel had upset the victims’ family.
Those akin to passengers on board the missing flight have called on Malaysian government and Ocean Infitiy to explain the blackout. Among them, KS Narendran demanded the entities for greater transparency over the ship’s temporary disappearance.
“I found the development quite odd, and worrying,” he said. “If this silence and becoming invisible was intentional, to ward off suspicion, a satisfactory explanation is due. If it was for other reasons, then in the interests of transparency, we ought to be told what caused it.
“There are no journalists and no family members on board the search ship. I wish there were some … We watch on in good faith. I hope ongoing official disclosure is of such a high order that there is little room for speculation, controversy or a whiff of conspiracy.”
10. Ocean Infinity can switch AIS off whenever they want.
Following the flooding of news covering the shenanigan, Malaysia Transport Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai assured that the company has “every right” to switch off their transponder, The Star reports.
“We realize that there are many people tracking the ship’s movement, so when the ship’s transponder is switched off, people will be curious and ask what’s happening.
But it is all normal, and if they want to switch it off, they have every right to do so,” said Liow, and reminded the public that there are two Royal Malaysian Navy representatives who are working in the vessel.
11. Current search range
According to Malaysian government last weekly search report prior to the blackout (dated at 30 January), it stated the vessel had completed phase 1 of the search. Seabed Contractor had scoured 4,500 square kilometres and reported that “no significant contacts identified to date.”
As of the report on 4 February, the search had covered 7,500 square kilometres. Two points of interest (POI) had been identified from the submersible crafts and upon further investigation, these POI’s were classified as “geological”.
12. Prior search effort has covered 120,000 square kilometres.
January last year, Australia, Malaysia and China jointly suspended a two-year underwater search for MH370. The exploration had cost the nations $159.38m (approx RM623m) for searching through 120,000 square kilometres in the southern Indian Ocean. No sign of the plane was found but parts of the plane debris have been collected from Indian Ocean islands and Africa’s east coast. Three of them were reported to be coming from the missing Boeing 777.
To put things into perspective, the earth has 360million square kilometers of ocean and Stuart Minchin, the Chief of Geoscience Australia’s environmental geoscience division, said only 10-15% of it has been surveyed with the technology used in the search for MH370.
The search effort for MH370 has opened up many discoveries about the ocean.
The tragedy of the missing plane has brought in many valuable discoveries about the aquatic world. According to CBC News, the search data would help scientists to understand the prehistoric movement of the earth’s southern continents and increase the knowledge of rich fisheries.
Geoscience Australia published data of the ocean floor 3D map last year and it had invited many studies.
“To see this work come out of that tragedy that was MH370 is really quite astounding, they’ve taken it to a new level,” said Martin Exel, a commercial deep-sea fisherman at Austral Fisheries who has fished in the area.
We are hoping more than scientific discovery out of this search. We wish Seabed Contractor a good luck in its search and hope that Ocean Infinity could come out with a response soon to reaffirm the victims’ family and stop the speculations once and for all.