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A member of staff at satellite communications company Inmarsat poses in front of a section of the screen showing the southern Indian Ocean to the west of Australia, at their headquarters in London March 25, 2014.
Reuters/Andrew Winning
Vast possibilities.
PERFORMANCE BASED

The search for MH370 is on again thanks to a “no find, no fee” offer

By Steve Mollman

In January, aviation authorities announced the suspension of the vast, expensive search for the Malaysia Airlines MH370 plane that went missing in March 2014, along with its more than 200 passengers. Now the hunt is back on, thanks to a seabed-exploration company offering to look for the Boeing 777 on a “no find, no fee” basis.

The Malaysian government confirmed yesterday (Oct. 19) that it has accepted the offer from Ocean Infinity. Based in Houston, the company touts itself as a leader in “seabed intelligence” and claims to have “the most advanced fleet of autonomous vehicles in the world.”

In one of aviation’s greatest mysteries, the plane vanished from radar soon after taking off from Kuala Lumpur en route to Beijing. It’s thought to have crashed in the Indian Ocean, taking the lives of all 239 onboard. But with the plane never found, relatives of the missing have been left to wonder what really happened.

The original search, led by Australia, lasted more than two years and took in 120,000 sq km (46,332 sq miles) of the Indian Ocean. As it ended, Australia released findings suggesting there was “a high probability” that the aircraft was in an area of the ocean measuring 25,000 sq km (9,652 sq miles). Ocean Infinity will focus its efforts there, according to Darren Chester, Australia’s minister for infrastructure and transport.

What the firm will earn if it finds the plane wasn’t announced. But Ocean Infinity will no doubt be taking some risk by spending time and energy on the search.

There could be side benefits. The original search chanced upon two uncharted shipwrecks, and it turned an otherwise obscure part of the Indian Ocean into one of the world’s most thoroughly mapped regions of deep sea. In July some of the data from that mapping was freely shared by Geoscience Australia, a government agency Down Under that conducts scientific research. More will be shared next year. The data will prove valuable not only to oceanographers and geologists, but also to private interests. Commercial fishermen, for instance, will have a better idea of where to find highly prized fish like tuna, which tend to gather at seamounts.

But the real prize for Ocean Infinity could be the marketing value. Potential customers around the world will learn about the firm and its services because of the search, and many more will do so should it actually find the plane.