The search for the wreckage of flight MH370 has entered a “new phase”, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has said.
In a press briefing on Monday, Abbott noted that it was now “highly unlikely” that any debris would be found on the surface of the Indian Ocean and that the focus of the search would now be underwater.
“What we are going to do… is enter a new phase of search focusing under the sea,” Abbott told reporters on 28 April. “The Bluefin-21 submersible will continue in operation. What we are doing, though, is looking to an intensified underwater search involving different technology, in particular using specialised side scan sonar equipment towed behind ships to scan the seabed for evidence of aircraft wreckage.”
The PM added that, in cooperation with Malaysia and China, Australia is now planning to use private contractors to search for the missing aircraft. It could take “some weeks” however, to put the new search arrangements in place, and in the meantime Australia’s Bluefin-21 submersible will continue with its underwater search operations.
Bluefin-21 has now completed 16 missions without detecting anything relating to flight MH370. It will now start to examine areas adjacent to the main search area.
Abbott admitted that there is “a degree of frustration and disappointment” that the underwater search has so far been unable to find evidence of wreckage on the ocean floor, despite the search area having been narrowed down by the ‘pings’ emitted by the aircraft’s black box.
“We are still baffled and disappointed that we haven’t able to find undersea wreckage based on those detections, and this is one of the reasons why we are continuing to deploy the Bluefin-21 submersible, because this is the best information that we’ve got,” Abbott said. “It may turn out to be a false lead but, nevertheless, it’s the best lead we’ve got and we are determined to pursue it.”
So far, more than 4.5 million square kilometres of ocean has been searched without success.
“Enormous efforts have been made. Enormous efforts will continue to be made. This is an extraordinary mystery. We will do everything we reasonably can to resolve it,” the PM said.