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US firm seals deal to resume MH370 hunt: Malaysia
[KUALA LUMPUR] Malaysia has agreed to allow a US exploration firm to resume the hunt for flight MH370, the transport minister said Friday, a year after the search was suspended.
The news came after the company, Ocean Infinity, said this week it had already dispatched a research vessel towards the expected search zone as it believed a deal would be finalised imminently.
The Malaysia Airlines jet disappeared in March 2014 with 239 people - mostly from China - on board en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, triggering one of the world's greatest aviation mysteries.
No sign of the plane was found in a 120,000 square kilometre search zone selected by satellite analysis of the jet's likely trajectory.
The Australian-led sea search, the largest in aviation history, was suspended in January last year.
But Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai told AFP that an agreement had now been made with the US firm, adding the deal was on a "no find, no fee" basis.
"It is our duty to look for answers and the plane, and as of today the government has decided to go ahead with the search," he said.
He added that a contract would be signed next week in Kuala Lumpur.
News of the decision was also sent to relatives of those on board the doomed jet.
The message, seen by AFP, said that the "MH370 Response Team wishes to note that the Government of Malaysia has engaged Ocean Infinity to undertake further search operation for MH370".
Norwegian research vessel Seabed Constructor, leased by Ocean Infinity for the search, set off from South Africa this month for the southern Indian Ocean, where MH370 is believed to have disappeared.
The firm wants to start the hunt during a period of good weather expected in January and February. The vessel is carrying several autonomous submarines which can be launched from the ship to scour the seabed for the jet.
Ocean Infinity has not given details of the new search area.
But Australia's national science body released a report in April suggesting the doomed plane was "most likely" north of the former search zone in an area of approximately 25,000 square kilometres.
Only three confirmed fragments of MH370 have been found, all of them on western Indian Ocean shores, including a two-metre wing part known as a flaperon.