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Data gathered during the three-year search for MH370 will be used to create detailed maps that could help fishermen operating in the area

Data from failed MH370 search to help fishermen

Image credit: US Navy

Detailed maps of the Indian Ocean seafloor, based on data gathered during the fruitless nearly three-year search for the ill-fated Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, will be released to the public, potentially helping fishermen to target shoals of valuable fish.

The 120,000 square kilometre search area off the coast of West Australia has been mapped with underwater sonars and other technology during the Australia-coordinated search operations.

Due to its remoteness and frequent severe weather, the area, riddled with high underwater volcanoes and rift valleys as deep as 6.5km, has so far largely been a terra incognita. But the $150m hunt for the missing Boeing 777, which was called off earlier this week, has made it one of the best explored areas of the deep ocean.

“A vast amount of data has been collected throughout the search, it will be published once it has been processed and prepared for public release,” the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) said in a statement.

The mapping, conducted by Dutch geo-intelligence firm Fugro, will help fishermen understand how nutrients are distributed along the underwater mountains, which will enable them to better predict where shoals of fish could be found.

“It brings an extraordinary new level of detail to our knowledge of the area,” said David Carter, chief executive of Austral Fisheries, whose fleet seeks toothfish in the waters near the search area.

Fishermen fleet operating in the inhospitable waters are usually seeking high-value species such as tuna, toothfish, orange roughy, alfonsino and trevally. Understanding the terrain would allow the fleets to target the shoals more efficiently.

“It will be of great interest to the commercial sector,” said Neil Patrick, one of Australia’s best known game fishermen.

“Fish can be worth thousands and thousands of dollars a piece out there.”

The search for MH370 was called off on Tuesday. Despite the massive investment and international involvement, the operation produced little understanding of what happened to the aircraft.

Only three fragments found on the beaches of Mauritius, Reunion and an island off Tanzania, have so far been confirmed to have come from the plane, which disappeared in March 2014 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

The demise of MH370, which cost 239 lives, is one of the biggest mysteries in the history of aviation. The plane is believed to have veered off sharply from its course and continued for hours above the Indian Ocean before likely having run out of fuel.

Evidence exists suggesting someone deliberately turned off the plane’s radar transponders. The plane subsequently continued invisibly for hours before crashing into the ocean. Experts were able to roughly deduce what happened to the plane from data the craft had exchanged with satellites.

The Malaysian government has offered a reward to a company that finds the plane’s wreckage. However, it said it would not fund the search activities.

“All costs must be borne by them. We will only reward them if they are successful,” Malaysian Deputy Transport Minister Abdul Aziz Kaprawi told Reuters.

He said the size of the reward had not been decided. Any company intending to search should contact the government, and a decision would then be made on the reward, he said.

On Wednesday, Australia said it was not ruling out a future underwater search.

Australia was coordinating the search operations as the plane is believed to have crashed within its maritime territory, although Malaysia was expected to be primarily responsible for the search as the home of Malaysia Airlines. The two countries shared the cost of the search operation with China, the home country of the majority of the plane’s passengers.

According to Abdul Aziz, Boeing, the manufacturer of the lost plane, did not contribute to funding the search operations. In 2009, Boeing’s rival Airbus was heavily involved in the search for an Air France Airbus A330, which had crashed into the Atlantic Ocean. Up to one-third of the cost of the successful underwater search was then paid for by Airbus and Air France.

Boeing said in a statement that it provided technical expertise and assistance, principally as advisers to government investigative authorities.

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