SYDNEY, Aug. 6 (UPI) -- It's been almost five months since Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared over the Indian Ocean without a trace. Evidence of the jetliner itself or the 239 passengers and crew on board has yet to be found, but the search continues as the Australian government announced this week it has hired Dutch firm Fugro NV to continue looking for the missing Boeing 777.
Beginning in September, the engineering firm will begin scouring a 23-square-mile expanse of the ocean floor off the southwest corner of the Australian coast. Fugro won a competitive bidding process to secure the $48.4 million contract, beating out companies more experienced in search missions for underwater wreckage, Odyssey Marine Explorations Inc. and Blue Water Recoveries, as well as Houston-based oil and gas services firm Oceaneering International Inc.
Still, Fugro is well equipped for the work, as it's been helping its oil and gas clients investigate underwater terrain for more than 50 years -- developing an expertise at ocean-floor mapping and sea-based geolocation.
"That's one of our strengths: integrating sonar with motion reference on board to get accurate maps," Rob Luijnenburg, Fugro's director of corporate strategy, told the Wall Street Journal.
Australian Transport Minister Warren Truss announced the new contract with Fugro on Wednesday, and said he is "cautiously optimistic" the search will be successful.
Fugro plans to drop side-scan sonar, multibeam echo sounders and video cameras deep into the ocean and tow the instruments slowly across the search area. If debris is detected, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution has agreed to provide Fugro engineers with two of its Remus 6000 autonomous underwater vehicles to investigate further.