MH370: Public servants failed, Chinese spies, now capitalist high tech to have a go

MH370: Public servants failed, Chinese spies, now capitalist high tech to have a go, by Ean Higgins.

[Maybe as early as next week,] an impressive but somewhat bizarre-looking ship with a massive helipad cantilevered over its bridge and a gigantic crane on the rear deck will stop in its tracks.

One after another, the crew will launch eight yellow unmanned boats and eight orange torpedo-like unmanned mini-submarines. The robot boats will stay in contact with the robot mini-submarines as they dart around on their own a few kilometres deep, hunting for the remains of an airliner that disappeared four years ago with 239 souls on board. …

Bureaucrats failed to find MH370:

At the request of Malaysia, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau led a two-year underwater search of a 120,000sq km target zone that ended a year ago without finding a trace of the aircraft. That failed search cost $200 million, paid for by the taxpayers of Australia, Malaysia and China. …

Now comes high tech capitalism’s bid — no find no fee, but up to $70m for finding the Boeing 777:

Now private enterprise, with American can do-ism coupled with British and European technical skill, is stepping up to the plate.

The people who run Ocean Infinity — a crack international team of engineers, information technology experts, hydrographic surveyors, underwater robot submarine experts and others — and its shareholders have taken a big gamble on their own ability. …

Ocean Infinity proposed to launch a new hunt for the aircraft on a “no find, no fee” basis — the Malaysian government would agree to pay a sizeable fee if the company found it. But if no wreckage were found, Ocean Infinity would have gone to all that effort for not a penny’s compensation.

Comparison of efforts, and the Chinese spies:

What Ocean Infinity is about to do makes the previous hunt organised by Australian bureaucrats look like kids’ stuff. The ships in the ATSB-led search used a single tethered “towfish” at a time, or a single mini-submarine, known as an autonomous underwater vehicle. One ship managed to crash its towfish into an underwater mud volcano, breaking the towline, and it was lost for a while until recovered.

Beijing’s contribution to the ATSB-led hunt was a Chinese government survey vessel that was supposed to deploy a single AUV. But that vessel, the Dong Hai Jiu 101, hardly ever did any actual searching; as revealed by The Australian, it spent most of its nearly year-long deployment docked in Fremantle or just offshore, probably spying on Australian submarine and other military movements, according to security experts. …

Ocean Infinity plans to use eight AUVs at a time on independent search missions, enabling it to scan the seabed for MH370 much faster than in the first search.

They are mind-blowing machines. In their 6.2m bodies they carry side scan sonar, a multi-beam echo-sounder, a sub-bottom profiler, a high-definition camera, a conductivity/temperature/depth sensor, a self-compensating magnetometer, a turbidity sensor, and a methane and laser sensor. … The AUVs can message the surface robot ships known as unmanned surface vehicles about what they are doing, using acoustic positioning telemetry. They have on-board cameras and machine-vision software that can enable them to keep an eye on what’s ahead of them and dodge underwater cliffs or other obstacles.