Investigators looking for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 have been battling inclement weather for months, and this week was no exception. Conditions sidelined one of the vessels involved in sweeping the Indian Ocean for plane wreckage, leaving only one actually out on the water.
In its weekly operational update on the search for MH370 debris, Australia's Joint Agency Coordination Centre wrote that the Fugro Equator was in the search area and operating accordingly. The Dong Hai Jiu 101, however, was still anchored, waiting for the weather to get better.
Conditions weren't set to improve much, either. "Strong to gale force winds are expected in the search area over the coming days, which may impact search operations," the agency wrote.
MH370, a Boeing 777 with 239 people on board, disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, 2014. Officials determined the plane crashed and launched a huge scan of the Indian Ocean for wreckage, but the hunt has turned up nothing. The only debris confirmed to be from MH370 has been discovered by civilians — not the formal search vessels.
Despite recent discoveries, the Dong Hai Jiu 101 hasn't been operating in the search area for more than a month. This raised suspicion among experts who told The Australian exclusively they thought the Chinese ship could be spying instead of searching.
"From my past intelligence experience I would be surprised if a vessel like the Dong Hai Jiu 101 did not have an intelligence collection role," former Australian army officer Clive Williams said at the time.
The claims were debunked Monday. The Chinese embassy in Canberra, Australia, sent The Australian a statement explaining that the equipment on the ship came from an American company.
"The facts are China, Australia and various other parties place high importance on the MH370 search mission," an unidentified embassy spokesman wrote in a letter to the editor. "We have all worked together in good faith and invested enormous manpower and material resources in this endeavor."
Representatives from Malaysia, China and Australia initially agreed to scan a 120,000-square-kilometer area of seafloor for items linked to the missing plane. More than 110,000 square kilometers have been checked so far.