Fugro NV, a Dutch deepwater-oilfield surveyor, won a contract from Australian authorities to scour the floor of the Indian Ocean for the Malaysian jet that vanished on March 8 in a search it described as “challenging.”
“This is a huge project because of the location, the sea depth, logistics and size of the area,” Rob Luijnenburg, a spokesman for the Leidschendam, Netherlands-based company, said by phone today. “We have experience locating plane wrecks in the Caribbean though not at such depth and amid 10-meter (33-foot) waves that are common in that area,” he said.
Fugro will use two ships equipped with sonar scanners and underwater cameras as it combs 60,000 square kilometers (23,166 square miles) of ocean, Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss told reporters in Canberra today. “I remain cautiously optimistic that we will locate the missing aircraft within the priority search area,” he said. The search may cost as much as A$80 million ($75 million).
The hunt for the Malaysian Airline System Bhd jet, which vanished with 239 passengers and crew during a routine flight to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur, is already the longest in modern aviation history. The aircraft vanished from civil radar with no emergency warnings, leaving investigators to analyze satellite and plane data to define a search area in the remote ocean off the west coast of Australia.
An initial report on the incident showed confusion reigned as the jet went missing, with top government officials not being briefed about the situation for nine hours.
Each search vessel has a crew of about 25 people working non-stop for a month, rotating with another squad, Luijnenburg said. One craft has started mapping the area while a second boat will start working mid-September with all the necessary equipment, Luijnenburg said.
Australia is discussing with Malaysia and others on how the cost of the search may be shared, Truss said today.
The Malaysian government will support the hunt with four vessels, including a naval survey ship that will arrive in late August.
A Chinese vessel, the Zhu Kezhen, will continue to survey the sea floor in the southern Indian Ocean until mid-September, Truss’s office said in an e-mailed statement.