Federal Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Darren Chester says new data purporting to show the probable location of missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 is insufficient evidence to resume the search effort.
On Wednesday, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) published two reports prepared by Geoscience Australia and the CSIRO analysing satellite imagery taken some two weeks after the Boeing 777-200ER 9M-MRO disappeared enroute from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on 8 March 2014.
The imagery, obtained from French authorities, identified 12 objects that were “probably” manmade, as well 28 items that were “possibly” manmade.
“The dimensions of these objects are comparable with some of the debris items that have washed up on African beaches,” the report said.
“To completely reject the possibility that any of these objects are pieces of 9M-MRO is difficult to defend.
“But there is no evidence to confirm that any of these objects (let alone all) are pieces of 9M-MRO.”
The movements of these items during the following three and a bit years due to ocean drift was determined using data from several types of earth-observation satellites, as well as Australia’s most powerful super-computer and more than a decade of government investment in operational ocean modelling.
“Taking drift model uncertainty into account, we have found that the objects identified in most of the images can be associated with a single location within the previously-identified region suggested by other lines of evidence,” the report found.
“Furthermore, we think it is possible to identify a most-likely location of the aircraft, with unprecedented precision and certainty.”
This location was in an area at latitude 35.6°S and longitude 92.8°E, the report said.
However, ATSB chief commissioner Greg Hood cautioned the image resolution was “not high enough to be certain whether the objects originated from MH370 or are other objects that might be found floating in oceans around the world”.
“Clearly we must be cautious,” Hood said in a statement.
“These objects have not been definitely identified as MH370 debris.”
Australia, China and Malaysia agreed to suspend the search for the aircraft in January after scouring 120,000 square kilometres of the Indian Ocean.
The three countries said at the time they would be open to resuming the search effort if there was credible new evidence which led to the identification of a specific location of the aircraft.
On Thursday, Chester described the satellite imagery as “of interest” but nothing that confirmed the location of MH370.
“Certainly, we believe that the imagery indicated that they were manmade objects in the water but that is consistent with other imagery that has been recovered in other oceans of the world when you find manmade objects in the water,” Chester told Australia’s Sky News channel.
“So it is not a precise location as some people might like to think.”
Chester said there had been no request from the Malaysian government for Australia to resume the search effort.
“As it stands today, the underwater search does remain suspended but we’ll certainly be part of any conversation with the Malaysian Government, at some stage if that is required,” Chester said.
It was reported a US company had offered to resume the search on a no-find, no-fee basis.