(Refiled to remove extraneous text characters in headline)
By Lincoln Feast
SYDNEY Aug 6 Dutch oil industry services firm
Fugro is to lead Australia's search of the Indian
Ocean seafloor where missing Malaysia Airlines flight
MH370 is believed to lie, hoping to solve the mystery of its
disappearance five months ago.
Australia on Wednesday awarded Fugro the lead commercial
contract to use its deepsea survey vessels for the search, after
months of hunting by up to two dozen countries revealed no trace
of the missing Boeing 777 airliner.
The aicraft carrying 239 passengers and crew, disappeared on
March 8 shortly after taking off from Kuala Lumpur bound for
Investigators say what little evidence they have to work
with suggests the aircraft was deliberately diverted by
thousands of kilometres from its route before eventually
crashing into the Indian Ocean off the coast of Western
The next phase of the search is expected to start within a
month and take up to a year, focusing on a 60,000 sq km (23,000
square miles) patch of ocean some 1,600 km (1,000 miles) west of
Australian Transport Minister and Deputy Prime Minister
Warren Truss said Fugro was selected after "offering the best
value-for-money technical solution" for the seafloor search.
"I remain cautiously optimistic that we will locate the
missing aircraft within the priority search area," he told
reporters in Canberra.
Fugro will use two vessels equipped with towed deep water
vehicles carrying side scan sonar, multi beam echo sounders and
video cameras to scour the seafloor, which is close to 5,000 m
(16,400 ft) deep in places.
The Dutch company is already conducting a detailed
underwater mapping of the search area, along with a Chinese
"We haven't completed the mapping, so we are still
discovering detailed features that we had no knowledge of,
underwater volcanoes and various other things," said Martin
Dolan, the head of the Australian Transport Safety Board, which
is heading the search.
"We are finding some surprises as we go through."
The company, which usually conducts surveys for oil and
telecommunication companies, admitted the water depth,
remoteness of the survey area as well as the rough seafloor
topography bring challenges for the operation.
"We're putting the map together as we go and we find that
certain areas are very rugged topography for sure," said
strategy director Rob Luijnenburg.
"We always want to do our best for customers... but because
of the importance and sensitivity of this project, this is
really one that we wanna do right."
Malaysia will provide four vessels and gear to aid seafloor
mapping and the search of the storm-lashed and isolated area.
Minister Truss said he would talk to his Malaysian
counterpart later this month about sharing search costs.
Australia has set aside up to A$90 million ($84 million) and
estimates a 12-month search of the area will cost around A$52
The search is already the most expensive of its type ever
China, which had 153 nationals on board MH370, has been
heavily involved, providing ships, aircraft and satellite
technology. One Chinese vessel will stay in the search area
until mid-September, but Truss said China had shown no sign that
it would cover any of the commercial search costs.
Dozens of ships and planes scoured vast areas of ocean in
the months after the plane disappeared but found only rubbish.
The search was narrowed in April after a series of acoustic
pings thought to be from the plane's black box recorders were
heard near its last location shown by satellite data analysis.
But officials now say wreckage from the aircraft was not in
the area they had identified, requiring the search to be
expanded and moved further to the southwest.
Malaysia Airlines has been hit this year by the loss of two
of its airliners, after Flight MH17 was shot down over a
conflict zone in eastern Ukraine.
(1 US dollar=1.0749 Australian dollars)
(Additional reporting by Matt Siegel in Sydney and Jussi
Rosendahl in Amsterdam; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Greg