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Fugro joins the search for missing MH370

Precise Consultants take a look at Fugro's involvement in the search for the Malaysian Airlines plane MH370 that vanished nearly 8 months ago.

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It will be eight months next week since Malaysian Airlines plane MH370 disappeared, taking with it all 227 passengers from 15 nations and 12 Malaysian crew.

There is still no trace of the missing Boeing despite the largest and most expensive search effort over an area larger than Tokyo – more than 2500 kms of seabed.

But that’s only a tiny speck in the ocean compared to what is going to be searched over the next year. Dutch survey company Fugro, which joined the search operation in June, carried out a bathymetric survey using the state of the art MV Fugro Equator equipped with a deep water multibeam sonar system and mapped an even larger area totaling 150,000 square kilometres off southwestern Australia.

To date it has revealed two previously unknown volcanoes but sadly no clues as to the location of the plane.

At the start of this month, after the seabed survey was completed, the Fugro Discovery began the underwater search. The vessel is using a sophisticated multibeam sonar device, the DT-1 Towfish which will be pulled about 150m above the ocean floor (5000m plus).

This technology allows wider areas of the ocean floor to be scanned much more quickly – covering 194 square km a day to depths of 6.4 kms. Project leader Evan Tanner says it can identify objects roughly 10 cm in size – the same size as a soda can – from a kilometre away.

In addition hydrocarbon sensors will be deployed to detect leaks. They are sensitive enough to discover aviation fuel at just a few parts-per-billion.

This weekend the search team will be joined by Go Phoneix and in November Fugro Equator returns after being fitted with its towfish, in a bid to speed up the discovery of the plane.

It’s estimated the search will cost in excess of $150 million, which is being jointly funded by the Malaysian and Australian governments – $90 million has already been allocated by the Australian government for the next two years. Aside from the year long contract for the three ships, there is no time constraint on the operation.

Although there’s no denying this remains a colossal undertaking, Malaysia’s defence minister told Sky News he is ‘‘99.9% sure’’ that the sonar technology will locate the plane. While that commitment was not echoed by the Australian Joint Agency Coordination Centre, a spokeswoman did express ‘‘cautious optimism’’ that this time something will be found..