PERTH, April 20 – The Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV), codenamed Bluefin-21 has to date completed about 50 per cent of the focused area in the underwater search for the Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, which went missing on March 8. The Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC) said the focused underwater search area was defined as a circle with a radius of 10 kilometres (km) around the second signal detected by the Towed Pinger Locator on April 8. No contacts of interest have been found so far, the agency said in a statement here Sunday. The agency, which is overseeing the search operation, said the Bluefin-21 AUV commenced its eighth mission right after the completion of mission seven Sunday morning.

On Saturday, the agency said the AUV had combed an area of about 133 square kilometres at the end of its sixth mission. On Saturday as well, Malaysian Acting Transport Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein, while denying media report that the underwater search would take six weeks to two months to complete, stated that the immediate search area being scoured at present by the Bluefin-21 should be completed within the next week. The minister also noted that it was now timely for the parties involved in the search operation to consider and discuss the use of submarines. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott had recently indicated that the search operation would be regrouped and reconsidered if there were no new updates “in the next few days”.Bluefin-21, was deployed on its maiden underwater mission on Monday, in the hope of locating debris from the missing plane, after no further confirmed signals were picked up by the Towed Pinger Locator since April 8.

It uses acoustic sounds to create a three-dimensional map of the sea floor and takes a minimum of 24 hours to complete each mission, including four hours to download collected data. The statement added that Sunday’s visual search area would involve 11 military aircraft and 12 ships. “The weather forecast for today is scattered showers, isolated thunderstorms in some areas, and east south-easterly winds,” said the agency. Flight MH370, with 239 people aboard, left the KL International Airport at 12.41 am on March 8 and disappeared from radar screens about an hour later while over the South China Sea. It was to have arrived in Beijing at 6.30 am the same day. A multinational search was mounted for the Boeing 777-200 aircraft, first in the South China Sea and then, after it was learnt that the plane had veered off course, in the southern Indian Ocean. After an analysis of satellite data indicated that the plane’s last position was in the middle of the Indian Ocean, west of Perth, Australia, Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak announced on March 24 that Flight MH370 had “ended in the southern Indian Ocean”.

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