Archive for August, 2017

New Pieces Possibly from MH370; Blaine Gibson Threatened in Madagascar

Blaine Gibson (right) and Nick Connite (left) in Madagascar with two new pieces possibly from MH370.

In a newly released report, private investigator Blaine Gibson reveals details surrounding two new pieces that could be from MH370. The pieces were discovered by residents of Madagascar in September 2016, and delivered to Malagasy authorities on August 16, 2017.

Blaine writes that “for the protection of those involved, we decided not to make this report public until the debris was safely delivered to Malaysia.” That transfer was supposed to occur imminently. However, with the assassination of Hon Consul Zahid Raza, who served as a diplomat for Malaysia in Madagascar, the transfer has been delayed, and Blaine has decided to now release his report.

In the report, Blaine explains that “under the agreement between the two countries, debris is supposed to be collected by Hon. Zahid Raza, the Honorary Malaysian Consul in Madagascar, and delivered by private courier to Malaysia. On August 24 the Hon. Zahid Raza was assassinated in Antananarivo. The debris is still safely in the hands of the Madagascar Authorities. However new arrangements must be made for the collection and delivery of debris.”

Although not mentioned in the report, Blaine told me that during a trip to Madagascar, death threats were made to him and others for continuing to collect debris related to MH370. Blaine told me about these threats when I met with him on August 3, which was three weeks before Mr Raza was assassinated. The link between custody of the debris and the slain diplomat was first discussed in a previous post.

Blaine attributes the new discoveries to be the “result of the 370 families’ debris search and awareness efforts and travel to Madagascar.”

Twenty-seven photographs of the two pieces are available for download.

Of the two parts, the larger one was found on Maroantsetra Beach on Antongil Bay in September 2016. Blaine estimates the dimensions to be about 27 inches long, 12 inches wide, and 2 3/4 inches thick, and composed of a composite honeycomb structure. However, there is a 3 1/2-inch strip attached with fasteners that have not yet been identified as aviation related.

The two new pieces. The smaller piece (left) is more likely from an aircraft than the larger piece (right).

The smaller part was found on Antsiraka Beach around September 2016. Blaine estimates the dimensions to be about 12 inches long, 12 inches wide, and 3/8 inches thick, and composed of a composite honeycomb structure. This piece appears to have a higher possibility of being aviation related.

The pieces remain in the custody of Malagasy officials until new arrangements are made to transfer the pieces to Malaysia.

Blaine also has released new maps that show where it is in Madagascar that MH370 debris is predicted to wash ashore. The maps were created using computer models developed by Dr Charitha Pattiaratchi of the University of Western Australia. Blaine acknowledges that Dr Pattiaratchi and CSIRO’s Dr David Griffin have helped guide search efforts.

Location of MH370 debris as predicted by computer models (white) and where two new pieces were found (red).

The new report, debris photographs, and maps are available for download as a collection of files.

Update on Aug 29, 2017. The fasteners on the larger of the two pieces have been identified to be aviation related. Thank you to Annette Mansfield and Mike Exner for that information.

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Slain Diplomat Was Helping Get MH370 Debris to Malaysia

Malaysian investigator Aslam Khan (left), Blaine Gibson (center), and Consul Zahid Raza (right) at the Ministry of Transport in Antananarivo, Madagascar, in December 2016

On August 24, Zahid Raza, serving as the Malaysian consul to Madagascar, was killed in the Malagasy capital of Antananarivo. According to reports, he was shot multiple times while seated in the driver’s seat of his car. Mr Raza is reported to be of French-Malagasy nationality.

Last December, Reuters reported that Mr Raza assisted Blaine Gibson in transferring the custody of pieces believed to be from MH370 from Madagascar to Malaysia. At that time, six pieces were transferred. This has raised questions as to whether there was a link between those MH370 parts and Mr Raza’s death.

What makes a possible link to MH370 even more suspicious is that in the time period surrounding his death, Mr Raza was expected to visit the Malagasy Ministry of Transport, retrieve additional recovered pieces, and deliver those pieces to Malaysia. In a private communication from Blaine to me, he writes (repeated here with his permission):

On August 16 possible MH 370 debris was handed over to Madagascar authorities, and authorities in Malaysia were notified. Under the agreement between the two countries, debris is supposed to be collected by Hon. Zahid Raza, the honorary Malaysian Consul in Madagascar, and delivered by private courier to Malaysia.

On August 24 the Hon. Zahid Raza was assassinated in Antananarivo. At first we did not know if he had picked the debris up before this tragedy. We just learned that the debris is still safely in the hands of Madagascar authorities. However new arrangements must be made for the collection and delivery of debris.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of the Hon. Zahid Raza.

In the aftermath of Mr Raza’s death, there seems to be conflicting stories about his background. He appears to be of French-Malagasy nationality, with family living in France and in the French Reunion Island. In one report, he is referred to as the “former” consul, but other reports imply he held the title of Honorary Consul at the time of his death. There is a report linking Mr Raza to a group associated with the kidnapping of residents of Indo-Pakistani descent that are living in Madagascar. (Madagascar does not grant automatic citizenship to  those born on Malagasy soil. As a result, some Indo-Pakistani residents are from families that have lived in Madagascar for over a century.) The association of Mr Raza with the kidnappers has not been confirmed, and could be disinformation. Hopefully, the facts surrounding this will surface.

Surprisingly, the assassination of Mr Raza has been met with stony silence from both Malaysia and France, despite his ties to both countries.

I join Blaine in expressing my sincere sympathy to Mr Raza’s family.

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Ocean Infinity CEO Discusses MH370 Search Offer

Oliver Plunkett, CEO of Ocean Infinity

I had the opportunity to converse with Oliver Plunkett, who is the CEO of Ocean Infinity (OI). My goal was to learn more about OI’s offer to search for MH370 in the Southern Indian Ocean (SIO). Although Mr Plunkett would not disclose the details of the confidential negotiations with Malaysia, he did provide information that is helpful to understanding the general terms of OI’s proposal.

First, OI’s offer is structured such that OI assumes 100% of the economic risk for the search. OI will NOT receive any payment if the wreckage is not found. So it would appear that if the success fee that OI is proposing is less than what Malaysia would have spent in conducting the search using conventional techniques, this is an extremely attractive offer.

I learned a bit more about the recent sea trials that Ocean Infinity recently conducted in the North Atlantic. The tests demonstrated that the underwater autonomous vehicles (AUVs) could be successfully launched and recovered. Each AUV also demonstrated that it could independently scan the seabed. Mr Plunkett said he was pleased with the results so far. Further work is planned at deeper depths and over a wider range of conditions. Mr Plunkett also explained that although the unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) could not be used in the roughest of sea states, the search for MH370 could nonetheless occur over a wide range of conditions. This is because the mission is to scan the seabed and identify the wreckage rather than to generate precise maps.

I inquired about the window of opportunity for completing the negotiations with Malaysia and starting the search. (We know from previous underwater search efforts that the search season in the SIO runs approximately from December to March.) Mr Plunkett is optimistic that Malaysia and OI will reach an agreement in a time frame that allows for adequate time to prepare for a search that begins this season.

Finally, I asked whether OI had already determined the specific area to search. Mr Plunkett explained that OI intends to complement its internal resources with input from other organizations and other outside experts to help define the search area. OI has already had some interaction with the ATSB, which he believes is completely committed to finding the wreckage. I don’t expect that OI’s search area will be very different than what we have been discussing here.

Over the course of our discussion, it became apparent that Mr Plunkett was aware of the many posts and discussions that appear on this blog.

With such a favorable offer on the table from an innovative and qualified firm, I remain optimistic that the seabed search will re-start. However, for the search to begin this season, the window of opportunity to complete the negotiations is narrowing. It is imperative that Malaysia not miss this opportunity.

Update on Aug 16, 2017

In a story appearing the New Straits Times, Malaysia’s Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) reveals that the OI proposal to restart the subsea search is one of several proposals that are under review. The proposals will be brought to the attention of Australia and China for their views.

Update on Aug 17, 2017

Voice370, representing the MH370 families, released this statement today which questions the delay in re-starting the search in light of the confidence expressed by CSIRO in identifying a probable impact site.

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Seabed Explorer Ocean Infinity Offers to Search for MH370

Ocean Infinity’s technology uses multiple underwater drones and surface vessels with a single host vessel

Yesterday, a support group for MH370 families released a statement claiming that a private entity has offered to resume the seabed search for the aircraft with the understanding that it would collect a fee only if the aircraft wreckage was found. Today, through Grace Nathan, a Malaysian lawyer whose mother was a passenger on MH370, we learn that the private entity is a US-based firm called Ocean Infinity.

Readers here are already familiar with Ocean Infinity. In a recent post entitled Advanced Underwater Drones May Help Find MH370, I highlighted the innovative research at Virginia Tech in developing underwater autonomous vehicles (AUVs) that could collaboratively scan the ocean floor. In an update to the article, I stated:

I was recently in a discussion that included a well-known ocean explorer who happens to be a judge in the Ocean Discovery XPrize competition.  We were having a general discussion about searching for MH370 and ways to scan the ocean floor at high resolution, and he told us about the capabilities of Ocean Infinity. Like the team at Virginia Tech, their approach is to employ a team of AUVs. From their website:

Six HUGIN autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) are capable of operating in 6,000 m water depth collecting high resolution data at record breaking speeds. Our AUV fleet is accompanied by six unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) to ensure precise position and constant communication.

With multiple autonomous vehicles working simultaneously utilizing innovative technology, we are able to survey huge swaths of the seabed, quickly and with outstanding accuracy. We can operate in shallow waters but excel in extreme depths, working in dynamic environments ranging from the tropics to the Arctic ice.

Because of the size and complexity of each AUV/USV pair, the capital cost of the technology from Ocean Infinity would greatly exceed the capital cost of Virginia Tech’s technology, which uses small AUVs with innovative navigation systems. On the other hand, both approaches benefit from having a single host vessel supporting multiple underwater vehicles, which offers significant operating cost and scan rate improvements compared to the conventional towfish technology.

Ocean Infinity’s seabed exploration system is commercially available today, including underwater and surface vehicles, on-board support equipment, and the host vessel. This is an exciting possibility for conducting the search for MH370 in the near future.

I can now say that the “well-known ocean explorer” was David Mearns. At the time that I posted the article, I was not aware that Ocean Infinity had any interest in searching for MH370, although I was hoping they did. The prospect of exploiting Ocean Infinity’s technology in the near future is great news.

That means that Malaysia, Australia, and China need to make a decision: Either the tri-partite countries should provide funds to re-start the search; or, the countries should fully cooperate with Ocean Infinity and other qualified entities that are interested in re-starting the search. Any other action is unacceptable.

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