Australia has stated that the underwater search for MH370 is unlikely to grow beyond the expanded 120,000km2 search area defined in April.
Over 50,000km2 of the ocean floor has been searched. In April, the search area was doubled from 60,000km2 to 120,000km2. If the aircraft is not found in the enlarged area, the search will be abandoned in the absence of fresh leads, says Australia's Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC) in an update.
"In the absence of credible new information that leads to the identification of a specific location of the aircraft, Governments have agreed that there will be no further expansion of the search area."
In previous statements about the expanded search area, the JACC says it includes all high priority search areas, but did not state that the search area would not be further expanded if the missing Malaysia Airlines 777-200 aircraft was not located.
On 30 May, bad weather forced the three ships - the GO Phoenix, Fugro Equator, and Fugro Discovery – searching for the lost 777 to retrieve their underwater autonomous vehicles (AUVs), and search efforts have yet to resume.
Fugro Equator, however, is using the pause to conduct additional mapping of the ocean floor. These areas could be added to the search later.
“Over coming weeks, search operations will be focused in the south to take advantage of the last of the better weather in that area prior to the expected onset of continuous poor weather during winter,” says JACC. “Safety of the search crews, as always, remains a priority and vessels and equipment utilised will vary to reflect operational needs, particularly during winter months.”
The JACC adds that the contract with Phoenix International for the GO Phoenix will expire at the end of this month, with the vessel set to return to Singapore.
The JACC update comes one day after the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) issued a statement defending the tender process that led to the selection of Fugro Survey to participate in the search. The statement followed criticism in Australian media about the effectiveness of the search.
“These attacks are unfounded and unfair”, said ATSB chief commissioner Martin Dolan. “The opportunity to tender services for the search for MH370 was open to the international underwater search industry. We received a number of tenders which encompassed a range of different capabilities and methods. A comprehensive and exhaustive evaluation process was conducted in line with strict Australian Government procurement and probity rules.”
“I am very conscious that we must use taxpayers’ money responsibly. Fugro’s bid represented the best value for money and demonstrated that they could capably manage the technical aspects of this challenging search operation and deliver the necessary results.”
Australia's government has also set aside A$50 million ($40 million) over 2015-16 to cover the costs of continuing the search for the missing aircraft.
MH370 disappeared on 8 March 2014 with 227 passengers and 12 crew onboard.