A Chinese sonar-equipped vessel is set to join the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 next month, Australia's Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss said Friday. The announcement comes just months before the search operation for the missing Boeing 777-200 is set to conclude in June.
The Dong Hai Jiu 101 will commence operation in the search area toward the end of February, Truss said, in a statement. The vessel will join three others — Fugro Discovery, Fugro Equator and Havila Harmony.
“The Australian Government welcomes the Dong Hai Jiu 101 to the search effort and thanks the Government of the People's Republic of China for its generous contribution,” Truss said. “The ship, offered to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull by Premier Li Keqiang of the People's Republic of China in November 2015, will undertake search operations in the southern Indian Ocean.”
Truss said that China has contributed a total value of around $20 million, including the ship, for the search of Flight MH370, which disappeared on March 8, 2014, with 239 people on board while on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
The reason behind the disappearance of flight MH370 remains a mystery, despite a multimillion-dollar search for the plane which has been ongoing for nearly two years. So far, the first and only piece of physical evidence to be recovered from the plane was a flaperon that washed ashore on France's Réunion Island in the Indian Ocean in July 2015.
Truss said in the statement Friday that the Dong Hai Jiu 101 search vessel “has recently been refitted and will be equipped with the ProSAS-60—a 6,000 meter depth-rated synthetic aperture sonar (SAS) towed system to be used in search operations.
“The ProSAS-60 will be operated by Phoenix International Holdings and Hydrospheric Solutions; both companies have experience in the search for MH370 having previously operated on the search vessel GO Phoenix,” he added.
The search has been focused on a 46,332-square-mile area in the southern Indian Ocean off Western Australia, and over 30,000-square-mile area of the search area has so far been scoured.
The latest update on the search for Flight MH370 comes as local reports claimed Thursday that more debris washed up on the Malaysian east coast, prompting speculation for a second time in a week that it could be from the missing jet.
On Tuesday, the Malaysia transport ministry said that a piece of suspected plane wreckage found off the coast of southern Thailand does not belong to Flight MH370.
A large piece of curved metal washed ashore in Nakhon Si Thammarat province Saturday. On Wednesday, local media reported that other objects were spotted floating in the waters near the town of Besut in the eastern state of Terengganu along the same coastline as the Nakhon Si Thammarat province, according to local media reports.
Experts from the MH370 investigating team, Malaysia Airlines and the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) reportedly arrived Friday to inspect the new debris believed to be parts of an aircraft.