Chinese vessel to join search for MH370

SYDNEY • China is set to join the underwater search for a Malaysia Airlines plane missing for almost two years by providing a sonar- equipped vessel by the end of next month, Australia's Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss said.

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 disappeared with 239 people on board while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing in March 2014, sparking one of the greatest mysteries in aviation history.

Most of the passengers were Chinese citizens.

So far, only a 2m-long flaperon wing part that washed up on Re-union Island in the Indian Ocean last July has been confirmed to have come from the aircraft.

"The ship, offered to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull by Premier Li Keqiang of the People's Republic of China in November 2015, will undertake search operations in the southern Indian Ocean," Mr Truss said yesterday in a statement.

The total value of the contribution by China, including the ship, is around A$20 million (S$20.2 million), he said.

Mr Truss said the Chinese vessel would be equipped with a 6km-long towed sonar system, which searchers will use to take a closer look at the rugged seabed.

Dong Hai Jiu 101 is set to depart Singapore for Australia tomorrow and join the hunt - which has so far covered 85,000 sq km of the 120,000 sq km search zone - in late February, Mr Truss added.

The Australian-led underwater search is one of the most expensive ever conducted. An initial hunt in a rugged 60,000 sq km patch of sea floor off the coast of Perth cost A$120 million but yielded no sign of the plane.

The presence of Dong Hai Jiu 101 will take to four the number of vessels scouring the ocean floor.

The Dong Hai Jiu 101's sonar system will be operated by Phoenix International and Hydrospheric Solutions. Both companies have previous experience in the search for MH370. Earlier this week, the Australian authorities said they had lost a deep-water sonar detector that was being used in the search.

The Australian authorities have said that if after the 120,000 sq km is scoured and there are no new leads to pinpoint the location of the missing aircraft, the search zone would not be expanded.

Relatives of those on board MH370 have bitterly criticised the airline and the Malaysian government for failing to provideanswers, while the disappearance has spawned numerous conspiracy theories.

Last Saturday, a piece of wreckage initially suspected to have come from the plane was found off the east coast of southern Thailand but aviation experts and Thai officials later said it was unlikely to have belonged to MH370.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 30, 2016, with the headline 'Chinese vessel to join search for MH370'. Print Edition | Subscribe