The search for MH370 is finding all sorts of interesting human stuff on the ocean floor, but no plane

Ship-related debris on the sea floor, including an anchor. Source: ATSB, photo by Fugro

The search for MH370 continues unabated, but also unsuccessfully, with Australia allocating a final $79.6 million in Tuesday night’s budget for the financial year ahead.

Meanwhile, the contracted search boat, the Fugro Equator, keeps scanning the ocean floor with its deep tow sonar and continues to find traces of human existence at the bottom of the sea, including lost shipping containers nearly 4km under the sea.

Its latest find is an old shipwreck, which in the language of search and rescue is classified as “of potential interest but unlikely to be related to MH370”.

Peter Foley, director of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau’s (ATSB) operational search for MH370, said there was cautious excitement about the find.

“There were characteristics of the contact that made it unlikely to be MH370, but there were also aspects that generated interest, multiple small bright reflections in a relatively small area of otherwise featureless seabed.

“All the sonar data we gather goes through a detailed analysis and an exhaustive review process to ascertain its quality, coverage and most importantly any sonar contacts of interest.”

The Fugro Supporter was diverted to investigate further making high-res sonar scans using an autonomous underwater vessel (AUV) at a depth of around 3900 metres. Most of the things found were around the size of a cricket ball, the biggest thing down there being 6-metre-long and box-shaped. It all appeared to be of man-made origin but not aircraft debris.

An additional AUV was send down with an underwater camera and analysis revealed it was the unknown wreck of an old ship. The anchor is clearly visible in the photo above. The images will be sent to marine archaeologists for possible identification.

“It’s a fascinating find, but it’s not what we’re looking for,” a disappointed Foley said.

But there is an upside. If something’s down there, the search team are confident they’ll spot it.

“This event has really demonstrated that the systems, people and the equipment involved in the search are working well. It’s shown that if there’s a debris field in the search area, we’ll find it,” he said.

More ship-related debris. Source: ATSB, photo by Fugro
White sea stars can be seen on some of the debris while the black objects are believed to be lumps of coal. Source: ATSB, photo by Fugro

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