Oman


Ship visiting Oman joins missing MH370 black box search


Survey ship HMS Echo, playing an important role in developing Duqm Port, was diverted to Southern Indian Ocean to help search the missing Malaysian Airlines plane MH370. Photo supplied

Muscat: Plymouth-based hydrographic survey ship HMS Echo, which was playing an important role in developing Duqm Port, has been diverted to Southern Indian Ocean as part of the ongoing huge search operation for the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370.

HMS Echo, one of Britain's most sophisticated hydrographic vessels, with sophisticated sound-locating equipment, is racing against time to determine whether the underwater sounds picked up by a Chinese ship crew using a hand-held device came from the missing plane's black boxes.

The two black boxes contain flight data and cockpit voice recordings that could solve one of the most baffling mysteries in modern aviation — who or what caused the disappearance of MH 370.

Describing HMS Echo, a senior official of the British Embassy in Muscat, said HMS Echo is a hydrographic vessel designed to carry out a wide range of survey work, including lending support to submarine and amphibious operations, through collecting oceanographic and bathymetric (analysis of the ocean, its salinity and sound profile) data.

"The ship's programme in the region had her conducting hydrographic surveying in the Gulf to improve the charts produced by the UK Hydrographic Office. These are used by seafarers throughout the world, thus enhancing maritime safety and security of navigation. When possible, HMS Echo will visit regional partners, such as Oman, to help support the positive relationships the UK has with these nations," the official from British Embassy in Muscat said in a statement to the Times of Oman on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Dato Rustam Yahaya, the Malaysian ambassador to Oman, said that apart from the ships, 11 planes had been pressed for the search mission.

Instructions
HMS Echo had been carrying out survey work in the Middle East before receiving instructions to join the international search effort in the Southern Indian Ocean. It arrived in the search area in Indian Ocean on April 7, 2014.

In a statement, Commander of HMS Echo, Philip Newell said: "The key challenge is to try and refine all of the observations that are being made by the Australian ship Ocean Shield. They are doing that at the moment but it's challenging due to some difficult weather conditions.

"At this stage, we are trying to narrow down this position so that when they put a submersible  into the water, they will be able to identify correctly what exactly is on the seabed."

A conductivity, temperature and depth (CTD) probe has been launched thousands of metres into the ocean to measure those variables that will affect how the pings will travel through water, according to the Royal Navy of UK.

An Expendable Bathythermograph will further check the accuracy of temperature and depth recordings, while HM Echo's HiPAP (High Precision Acoustic Positioning) sonar is being used outside its normal operating parameters to listen for the aircraft transponder.

It can detect a 'ping' at a range of 4,000 metres and can determine range and bearing to more accurately pinpoint the position. The HiPAP is used in industry for the positioning of drill heads and has proven accuracy. The ship is designed for long stays at sea, and could potentially continue its search for up to 60 days.

HMS Echo in Duqm
In March 2014, Echo tested the facilities in Duqm Port — to confirm that they could meet the needs of Royal Navy ships in the region.

As part of Duqm's development, Echo was asked to visit the port to review the facilities currently available and assess whether they are suitable for the Royal Navy's future use.

The Devonport-based survey ship's crew tested logistics support — drinking water and fuel — to confirm that the quality, pumping rates, and ease of supply were of the standard required.

"The visit to Duqm has allowed HMS Echo to strengthen maritime relationships with Oman, test Duqm's ability to work with the Royal Navy in future and provide an alternate port of call in a key operational area," said Commander Philip Newell. 

MH 370 was flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing when it lost contact with air traffic controllers and vanished with 239 people on board on March 8, 2014. It is believed that the plane flew off course for an unknown reason and went down in southern Indian Ocean.

To get in touch with the reporter: rahuldas@timesofoman.com

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