January 23, 2018 / 8:09 AM / 3 months ago

Ship hired to find MH370 arrives in search zone

SYDNEY, Jan 23 (Reuters) - A vessel hired to search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 and solve one of the world’s greatest aviation mysteries has reached the remote spot in the Indian Ocean where Australian scientists believe the plane went down, Reuters shipping data shows.

Flight MH370 disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing in March 2014 with 239 people, mostly Chinese, on board.

Investigators believe someone may have deliberately switched off MH370’s transponder before diverting it over the Indian Ocean. Debris has been collected from Indian Ocean islands and Africa’s east coast and at least three pieces have been confirmed as coming from the missing plane.

Malaysia agreed earlier this month to pay U.S. firm Ocean Infinity up to $70 million if it finds the plane within 90 days. The search vessel, the Seabed Constructor, set off from Durban, South Africa, on Jan. 3.

The vessel is equipped with eight autonomous submersibles that can search a wide area of sea floor much faster than the tethered scanners used in previous searches, Charitha Pattiaratchi, professor of coastal oceanography at the University of Western Australia, told Reuters by phone from Colombo.

“If they don’t find anything in the 90 days...I think that would be the end for decades - this is like the final effort, if you like,” he said.

Reuters data, which is supplied from an automated tracking system, shows the vessel reached the search zone on Sunday and on Tuesday was tracking towards a spot that Australia’s scientific agency believes with “unprecedented precision and certainty” is the most likely location of the aircraft.

Texas-based Ocean Infinity could not be reached outside business hours at offices in Houston and London.

Australia, Malaysia and China called off their two-year search for the plane a year ago after finding nothing in a 120,000-sq-km underwater search zone.

Reporting by Tom Westbrook in SYDNEY. Additional reporting by Joseph Sipalan in KUALA LUMPUR; Editing by Nick Macfie

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