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Asean & Global Updates
POSTED | 11:57 AM | 28-05-2015

Australia’s search for MH370 under scrutiny

Nearly a year after embarking on a multi-million dollar quest to solve one of aviation’s greatest unsolved mysteries, authorities and search teams are being criticized over their approach to finding Flight MH370 in the remote southern Indian Ocean.

The Australian-led search, already the most expensive in aviation history, has found no trace of the Malaysia Airlines jet or its 239 passengers and crew, prompting calls for a rethink into the way the mission is conducted, Reuters reported on Thursday (28 May 2015).

Experts involved in past deep water searches say the search to find MH370 could easily miss the plane as Dutch company Fugro NV, the firm at the forefront of the mission, is using inappropriate technology for some terrain and inexperienced personnel for the highly specialized task of hunting man-made objects.

Heightening concerns, Australian authorities said on Wednesday that another search vessel, the Go Phoenix, which is using the world’s best deep sea search equipment and crew provided by US firm Phoenix International Holdings Inc, would pull out within weeks. No reason was given for withdrawing the vessel from the quest.

“Fugro is a big company but they don’t have any experience in this kind of search and it’s really a very specialized job,” said Paul-Henry Nargeolet, a former French naval officer who was hired by France’s air accident investigation agency BEA to co-ordinate the search and recovery of Air France Flight AF447 in 2009.

“This is a big job,” Nargeolet told Reuters. “I’m not an Australian taxpayer, but if I was, I would be very mad to see money being spent like that.”

Fugro, which was contracted by the Australian government to operate three ships pulling sonar across the vast 60,000-km search zone, has rejected claims it is using the wrong equipment, saying its gear is rigorously tested.

Still, Nargeolet’s concerns are echoed by others in the tightly held deep-sea search and rescue industry, who are worried that unless the search ships pass right over any wreckage the sonar scanning either side of the vessels won’t pick it up.

Experts also question the lack of data released by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) on the activities of the Fugro ships.

Three of the bidders rejected for the MH370 contract, US firm Williamson & Associates, France’s ixBlue SAS and Mauritius-based Deep Ocean Search Ltd, have taken the unusual step of detailing their concerns -- months down the track -- directly to Australian authorities in correspondence viewed by Reuters.

Several other experts are also critical, including some who requested anonymity, citing the close knit nature of the industry which has just a few companies and militaries capable of conducting deepwater searches.

“I have serious concerns that the MH370 search operation may not be able to convincingly demonstrate that 100 percent seafloor coverage is being achieved,” Mike Williamson, founder and president of Williamson & Associates told Reuters.

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