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MH 370 Search Ship Damaged, Complicating Recovery

Published Jun 10, 2015 7:03 PM by Kathryn Stone

Massive waves damaged an MH 370 search ship this week, further complicating the heavily-scrutinized recovery operation.

The GO Pheonix, a sophisticated search vessel using the world’s best deep sea equipment, sustained substantial damage to its deep tow system in inclement winter weather this week.

In an online update the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), which is heading up the MH 370 search, said “a significant amount of welding is required to rectify the damaged frame and the initial plan was to undertake this work on-site.” The vessel returned to port June 8 to begin repairs.

A new video released by the ATSB shows the waves crashing over the vessel as it encounters rough sea conditions in the Indian Ocean. Crew members remain hidden inside two large shipping containers that serve as a portable base of operations where search team members conduct towfish operations and maintenance.

The onset of winter had caused a series of complications to the MH 370 search. Two Fugro vessels have been recalled – one temporarily and one permanently- due to increasing difficulty of operating in rough sea conditions. The remaining Fugro vessels have undergone winterization to allow them to continue operations during the winter months. As of today, just one search vessel is still conducting operations, and the ATSB anticipates repeated search pauses in the months to come. 

The ATSB added that, “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.”

The search for Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 has fallen under considerable scrutiny in the 15 months since the plane disappeared. The deepwater search is estimated to have cost over $60 million already with over $100 million more planned for future search efforts. But, it has not yielded any significant information about the plane’s location.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Tim Clark, president of Emirates, likened the search to a ‘goose chase’ saying that the operation may very well be a repeat of the search for Emilia Earheart’s downed plane.

Members of the subsea search community have also openly expressed concerns about Fugro’s ability to carry out a search of this nature. Skeptics claim that Fugro’s equipment is better suited for flat terrain, instead of rugged cliffs and volcanos of the current search. Similarly, Mike Williamson, founder and president of Williamson & Associates told Reuters, "I have serious concerns that the MH370 search operation may not be able to convincingly demonstrate that 100 percent seafloor coverage is being achieved,"

The GO Pheonix is set to pull out of the MH 370 search after completing its current swing. No reason has been given for the vessel’s withdraw from the project.