The search area for the missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 is expected to move south, Australian officials have said.
An Australian government statement confirmed the survey vessel Fugro Equator it has contracted to help locate flight MH370 began operations this week, joining the Chinese PLA-Navy ship Zhu Kezhen.
Under the direction of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), the two vessels are conducting the bathymetric survey—or mapping of the sea floor—which is crucial to carrying out the deep water search for MH370 that is scheduled to begin in August.
Australia also noted that at the end of May, Zhu Kezhen suffered a defect to its multibeam echosounder and came into the port of Fremantle for necessary repairs. The fault has been rectified and the ship will resume operations in the search area shortly.
So far, the Zhu Kezhen has surveyed 4,088 sq km of the ocean floor, the Australian government said. It is anticipated it will take at least three months to complete the bathymetric survey of the 60,000 sq km search zone.
The ships will regularly send survey data to the ATSB and Geoscience Australia. This data will be used to progressively build a map of the search area.
The search area will be confirmed before the end of June, after completion of extensive collaborative analysis by a range of specialists, according to the statement.
“It is already clear from the provisional results of that analysis that the search zone will move, but still be on the seventh arc [where the aircraft last communicated with satellite],” the statement added.
It is believed the new search focus area will be hundreds of miles south of the current area.
MH370 disappeared March 8 shortly after taking off from Kuala Lumpur on a routine night flight to Beijing. There were 239 passengers on board. An extensive multinational search effort has so far found no trace of the aircraft and is relying on satellite information to narrow its search focus in the south Indian Ocean, where the 777 is believed to be resting.
IATA has formed a task group in the wake of the incident to identify better ways to track airliners continuously regardless of their flight paths.