The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) on Tuesday defended its handling of the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370. Industry experts had criticized the agency for its decision to choose Dutch company Fugro NV, whose vessels are involved in the multi-million dollar quest for the jetliner.
ATSB, which is leading the search operation, refuted assertions that its officials made the wrong decision by selecting Fugro Survey Pty Ltd to conduct the underwater search. The agency also refuted claims that its search methods are ineffective and that Fugro is using the wrong technology and inexperienced personnel.
“These attacks are unfounded and unfair,” Martin Dolan, the chief commissioner of ATSB said, in the statement. “The search for MH370 represents thousands of hours of work by hundreds of people who are dedicated, expert and professional. They are fully committed to finding the aircraft.”
Last month, experts had also raised questions over the lack of data released by ATSB on the activities of the Fugro ships. Fugro, which was contracted by the Australian government to operate three ships looking for the plane across a nearly 37,000-square-mile search zone in the southern Indian Ocean, had rejected claims that it is using the wrong equipment.
Dolan also defended the MH370 search tender process saying that “the opportunity to tender services for the search for MH370 was open to the international underwater search industry,” adding: “I am very conscious that we must use taxpayers’ money responsibly. Fugro’s bid represented the best value for money and demonstrated that they could capably manage the technical aspects of this challenging search operation and deliver the necessary results.”
The agency also said that Fugro has been involved in several search operations since the 1980s and has the ability to detect man-made objects on the seafloor. Fugro Equator’s deep-tow system, while looking for the missing passenger jet, in May discovered a shipwreck on the seafloor in the waters off western Australia that was described by authorities as a “fascinating find.”
“The debris in the shipwreck field was significantly smaller, and therefore harder to detect, than we expect to find with MH370,” Dolan said Tuesday. “The ATSB has put in place systems of review and expert quality assurance so we can be certain that the quality of search data meets the high standards we have specified. We selected Fugro on their capacity to meet those standards.”
Flight MH370 went missing on March 8, 2014, with 239 people on board, while on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. The search, which has now become the costliest in aviation history, has not yielded any concrete clues as to the whereabouts of the missing plane. In May, the search plan for the Boeing 777-200 was “modified” to conduct a continuous search for the jetliner.
“The challenges remain... the search zone is remote, the weather and sea conditions are difficult and the search area is vast, but I’ve never had any doubt about the capabilities of Fugro, their commitment to the mission or their professionalism," Dolan said, in the statement.