The Australian government awarded on Wednesday a $48.4 million contract to Dutch firm Fugro Survey to lead the underwater search in the southern Indian Ocean for the missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 jet that left Kuala Lumpur for Beijing on March 8.
Fugro is one of the biggest oil-and-gas servicing companies in the world, but it has limited search experience for wrecks on the ocean floor. However, Fugro has the capability to operate long-term, including provision of rotating crews and deployment of several vessels at the same time, said Australian Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss.
Truss estimated that it would take Fugro about 300 days or almost one year to search for the missing Flight MH370, using its four ships with deep-water sonar equipment. The Dutch firm won the bid over other oil-and-gas services and wreck salvage specialists such as Oceaneering International from Houston, Odyssey Marine Explorations and Blue Water Recoveries.
Its search area covers 23,000 square miles, said Truss, who added he is cautiously optimistic about finding the debris of the ill-fated aircraft on the ocean floor.
Ahead of the Fugro search, a Chinese and Australian bathymetric study found unusual topography in the search area, which is about 1,000 miles west of Perth, disclosed Australian Transport Safety Bureau Chief Commissioner Martin Dolan.
He said the survey is still ongoing.
"The ocean is not simply flat and featureless. There's quite a lot of geological features there that will be a challenge in the search," he added, quoted by NBC News,
The search, to be led by Steve Duffield, regional managing director of Fugro, would use two Remus 6000 autonomous underwater vehicles from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. The agency was part of the 1985 search for the Titanic off the coast of Newfoundland in Canada.
Here's more information about Fugro in this 2014 corporate video.