Two ships, Zhu Kezhen and Fugro Equator, continue to work in the southern Indian Ocean, surveying the sea floor in preparation for the deep-sea search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, Australian Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC) said in a release.
In June, an expert satellite working group identified a search zone of up to 60,000 square kilometres, which represents the highest priority for future search efforts. As with previous search areas, it is located along the seventh arc—a thin but long line that includes all the possible points where the last known communication between the aircraft and a communications satellite could have taken place.
Before the deep-sea search can commence however, it is necessary to map the sea floor in this remote region of the Indian Ocean, which until now has been poorly charted. The aim is to identify significant features on the sea floor, which may present a hazard for the deep water vehicles that will be used for the search.
Since 24 May 2014, the Zhu Kezhen, a Chinese PLA-Navy vessel has been conducting survey operations. The bathymetric data it is collecting will assist in characterising the sea floor topography. As of 30 July 2014, it has sounded over 25,000 square kilometres along the seventh arc.
Fugro Equator, an Australian-contracted specialised survey vessel, has also been conducting bathymetric survey work. As of 30 July 2014, over 43,000 square kilometres have been sounded by Fugro Equator.
Analysis and mapping of this data is continuing.
On 6 July, the Government of Malaysia announced that its hydrographic survey vessel, the KD MUTIARA, would join the Zhu Kezhen and the Fugro Equator in August to continue the bathymetric survey work.
The deep-water search is expected to commence in September following the appointment of a prime contractor through a request for tender process.
Malaysian oil company Petronas said it will deploy underwater search equipment, Prosas Towed Side Scan Sonar, and a support vessel to the new search zone.
Press Release, August 4, 2014; Images: JACC, Fugro