A U.S.-based company that recently embarked on a new search mission for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 could earn up to $70 million if the crucial wreckage is found within three months, Malaysian officials said Wednesday.
Ocean Infinity’s search team set off on their expedition on Jan. 2. They will scour a 25,000 square kilometer area in the southern Indian Ocean previously identified by experts to search for the plane’s wreckage, and most specifically, the two black boxes onboard.
"The primary mission by Ocean Infinity is to identify the location of the wreckage and/or both of the flight recorders ... and present a considerable and credible evidence to confirm the exact location of the two main items," Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai said.
MH370 took off from Kuala Lumpur on March 8, 2014, and was headed to Beijing when it disappeared. There were 227 passengers and 12 crew members on board.
After more than 1,000 days searching, the initial search mission was called off last January by governments in Malaysia, China and Australia without a concrete conclusion as to where or why the Boeing 777 vanished.
There was an 85 percent chance of locating the debris in the new area, Lai said on Wednesday. If the mission is successful, the price tag will increase depending on how much of the new territory the team searches.
If the wreckage is found within three months, Lai said the government will pay Ocean Infinity $20 million for 5,000 square kilometers (1,930 square miles) of a successful search, $30 million for 15,000 square kilometers (5,790 square miles), $50 million for 25,000 square kilometers (9,653 square miles) and $70 million if the plane or recorders are found beyond the identified area.
The agreed upon deal was signed on a “no cure, no fee” arrangement, meaning if the company didn’t find anything, the Malaysian government wouldn’t have to pay.
The Seabed Constructor search vessel, which departed from the South African port of Durban, is expected to reach the southern Indian Ocean by Jan. 17, according to Ocean Infinity’s Chief Executive Oliver Plunkett.
He said eight autonomous underwater vehicles - drones fitted with high-tech cameras, sonars and sensors - will be dispatched to map the seabed at a faster pace.
"We have a realistic prospect of finding it," he said. "While there can be no guarantees of locating the aircraft, we believe our system of multiple autonomous vehicles working simultaneously is well suited to the task at hand."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.