A SOPHISTICATED search vessel tasked with tracking down Malaysia Airlines flight 370 mysteriously disappeared for three days after turning off its tracking system. Conspiracy theories behind the disappearance were quick to surface online.
Seabed Constructor’s Automatic Identification System (AIS) was disabled on Jan 31 – exactly 10 days into the new search – and not reconnected until last night, leaving approximately 80 hours unaccounted for.
The vessel, which has been contracted by exploration company Ocean Infinity, reached the new search site on Jan 21, but later became undetectable, leaving observers confused.
Throughout the almost four-year search, investigators and amateur wreckage hunters have been able to track map search vessels’ routes via satellite.
SEE ALSO: MH370 may be found within a month
A handful of trusted observers, including UK-based space scientist Richard Cole and US-based precision machinist Kevin Rupp, have previously been able to keep followers updated with regular maps and analysis.
However, since starting its mission in January, the new Constructor vessel has proven more difficult to keep track of, sending online followers into a spin.
#MH370 Morning Update – Nothing new. Seabed Constructor is now over 15 hours without updating her AIS position. I will post as soon as anything changes
— Kevin Rupp (@LabratSR) February 1, 2018
“I think that the AIS transmission from Constructor has been disabled. The question is whether this is finger-trouble by someone adjusting the AIS system settings ahead of departing for Fremantle, or deliberate action.” Cole posted in a subreddit dedicated to Seabed Constructor position updates.
The almost 80 hours without transmission left people questioning what the vessel was doing in this time, with some netizens urging Ocean Infinity to rectify the problem to prevent conspiracy theories and speculation.
The Texas-based company signed up to search for the missing aircraft after striking a “no find, no fee” deal with the Malaysian government. If the wreckage is uncovered in the first 90 days of the search, the company stands to earn up to US$70 million.
The conspiracy theories that continue to surround the disappearance of the aircraft have now spread to the search vessel following its disappearance.
Just before the ship’s AIS was switched off, the vessel made a wide circle and then headed south west in a straight line. Observers speculated that the mission had been successful and the Constructor had indeed found the missing plane, then gone “dark” in order to investigate.
#MH370 My night time update. Not sure what Seabed Constructor is up to . She has slowed to almost stop several times in this. 4 images. One track without the previous track and one with. A mid view and an overview pic.twitter.com/J7WEkKhrim
— Kevin Rupp (@LabratSR) January 31, 2018
Others believe the boat took a secret detour to a nearby shipwreck to retrieve a chest from the seabed. The badly dissolved wreck was discovered in a previous MH370 search. While there was little left of the ship itself, its discoverers said a locked chest remained intact but that there was no way of knowing what was inside.
#MH370 Curious about #Constructor’s inactivity? An old pictorial overview from March 14, 2016 explains. Fugro’s Kennedy displayed some of it to attendees near Perth, #AU in January 2016. Does all of Australia have a share in what is being brought up? Paid for with #AU tax $$$. pic.twitter.com/0Eeqhmm8H1
— Mike Chillit (@MikeChillit) February 1, 2018
Other netizens were less plausible, connecting MH370 theories with the vessel. “Rogue captain?” said one Reddit user. “If it starts pinging in the Malacca Strait that would be something,” said another.
According to ABC News, Ocean Infinity has repeatedly declined media requests for interview, so the company may never reveal why it turned its AIS system off, or what it was doing during those quiet hours.
Flight MH370 disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing in March 2014 with 239 people on board.