Malaysia signed a deal on Wednesday (Jan 10) to pay Ocean Infinity up to US$70 million if it finds missing flight MH370 or its black boxes within 90 days, confirming an earlier report by reporters.
"The primary mission by Ocean Infinity is to identify the location of the wreckage and/or both of the flight recorders - cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder (FDR) - and present considerable and credible evidence to confirm the exact location of the two main items," Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai said at a press conference.
The deal stipulates that Malaysia will pay Ocean Infinity up to US$50 million if the wreckage or flight recorders are found within 90 days in a 25,000 sq km zone on the South Indian Ocean identified as a priority area by Australian researchers, and US$70 million if it is found in a search area beyond that.
NO CURE, NO FEE
Reporters had reported earlier that Malaysia had agreed to pay the US firm according to a tier system on a "no cure, no fee" basis, starting at US$20 million if the plane is found within the first 5,000 sq km. This means that Ocean Infinity will only get paid if it finds the plane.
The vessel will have 65 crew, including two government representatives drawn from the Malaysian navy. The search operation will begin on Jan 17.
The Malaysia Airlines aircraft disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on Mar 8, 2014, carrying 239 passengers and crew.
The search for MH370 coordinated by Australia was suspended after no trace of the plane was found in a 120,000 sq km zone in the southern Indian Ocean, but researchers are confident that these new coordinates could yield results.
Ocean Infinity has deployed a Norwegian research ship which is expected to search up to 1,200 sq km a day beginning mid-January. This could mean the 25,000 sq km zone narrowed down by researchers will be covered in a month.
"As we speak, the vessel, Seabed Constructor is currently on her way to the search area, taking advantage of the favourable weather conditions in the South Indian Ocean," said Mr Liow.
The last search, which took more than two years to cover 120,000 sq km, had cost the Malaysian government US$116 million.
"It is my hope that we will find the answers that we've sought for nearly four years and bring some closure to this unfortunate incident," said Mr Liow.
The Royal Malaysian Police and the Attorney General's Chambers will be monitoring Ocean Inifinity's operation via an operation room, he added.
In his closing remarks, Mr Liow reiterated Malaysia's "unwavering commitment" towards finding the missing plane.
"It (is) my hope that we will find (an) answer that we seek for nearly four years and bring some closure to this unfortunate incident," he said.
Families of those on board MH370 will be updated through text messages and email.
Voice370, a support group for relatives of the victims, said in a statement late on Wednesday that it appreciates the "bold offer for the search" on the "no cure, no fee" basis from Ocean Infinity.
The group added: "Our best wishes are with all parties involved in this search ... While it may not bring our loved ones back into our midst, we wish for the answers that will let matters rest."
They also asked Malaysian authorities to be open to similar search proposals from other parties in the event that the search by Ocean Infinity is unfruitful.
Investigators have so far confirmed that three pieces of debris washed up and recovered on western Indian Ocean shorelines came from MH370.
Other pieces recovered mostly on western Indian Ocean shorelines have been identified as likely, though not definitely, from MH370.