Malaysia to pay US firm up to $70 million if it finds missing MH370

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia signed a deal on Wednesday to pay a U.S. seabed exploration firm up to $70 million if it finds the missing Malaysia Airlines aircraft MH370 within 90 days of embarking on a new search in the Southern Indian ocean.

The disappearance of the aircraft en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing in March 2014 with 239 people aboard ranks among the world's greatest aviation mysteries.

Australia, China and Malaysia ended a fruitless $200-million ($157 million) search of a 120,000 sq. km area in January last year, despite investigators urging the search be extended to a 25,000-square-km area further to the north.

RELATED: New MH370 search data published

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New MH370 search data published

One of the released images shows a three-dimensional view of the sea floor.

(HANDOUT / Reuters)

The investigations located a number of shipwrecks within the search area.

(Photo: Geoscience Australia)
The investigations located a number of shipwrecks within the search area.

(Photo: Geoscience Australia)

Ship-related debris.

The investigations located a number of shipwrecks within the search area.

(Photo: Geoscience Australia)

The investigations located a number of shipwrecks within the search area.

(Photo: ACFR)

The investigations located a number of shipwrecks within the search area.

(Photo: Geoscience Australia)

The investigations located a number of shipwrecks within the search area including anchors.


(Photo: Geoscience Australia)

The investigations located a number of shipwrecks within the search area.


(Photo: Geoscience Australia)

The investigations located a number of shipwrecks within the search area.

(Photo: Geoscience Australia)

Whale bone

A number of other small items were also identified on the sea floor, including whale bones and cable from a vessel.

These findings during Phase Two of the search highlight the level of detail to which the sea floor has been searched.


(Photo: Geoscience Australia)

Oil Drum

A number of other small items were also identified on the sea floor, including whale bones and cable from a vessel.

These findings during Phase Two of the search highlight the level of detail to which the sea floor has been searched.


(Photo: Geoscience Australia)

Steel cable

A number of other small items were also identified on the sea floor, including whale bones and cable from a vessel.

These findings during Phase Two of the search highlight the level of detail to which the sea floor has been searched.

(Photo: Geoscience Australia)

Geological formation

A number of other small items were also identified on the sea floor, including whale bones and cable from a vessel.

These findings during Phase Two of the search highlight the level of detail to which the sea floor has been searched.

(Photo: Geoscience Australia)

Geological formation

A number of other small items were also identified on the sea floor, including whale bones and cable from a vessel.

These findings during Phase Two of the search highlight the level of detail to which the sea floor has been searched.

(Photo: Geoscience Australia)

An undated supplied image from Geoscience Australia shows a map view of the sea floor obtained from mapping data collected during the first phase of the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.

(Commonwealth of Australia (Geoscience Australia)/Handout via REUTERS)

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Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai said a Houston-based private firm, Ocean Infinity, would search for MH370 in that 25,000-sq-km priority area on a "no-cure, no-fee" basis, meaning it will only get paid if it finds the plane.

"As we speak, the vessel, Seabed Constructor, is on her way to the search area, taking advantage of favorable weather conditions in the South Indian ocean," Liow told a news conference.

The search will begin on Jan. 17, said Ocean Infinity Chief Executive Oliver Plunkett, who attended the signing event.

Ocean Infinity will be paid $20 million if the plane is found within 5,000 sq km, $30 million if it is found within 10,000 square km and $50 million if it is found within an area of 25,000 square km. Beyond that area, Ocean Infinity will receive $70 million, Liow said.

Its priority is to locate the wreckage or the flight and cockpit recorders, and present credible evidence to confirm their location within 90 days, Liow added.

"They cannot take forever or drag it on for another six months or a year."

'UNIQUE SOLUTION'

Ocean Infinity's vessel carries eight autonomous underwater vehicles that will scour the seabed with scanning equipment for information to be sent back for analysis.

It has 65 crew, including two government representatives drawn from the Malaysian navy.

RELATED: Malaysia MH370 debris found

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Malaysia MH370 debris found
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Malaysia MH370 debris found
Joao de Abreu, President of Mozambique's Civil Aviation Institute (IACM), holds a piece of suspected aircraft wreckage found off the east African coast of Mozambique at Mozambique's Civil Aviation Institute (IACM) in Maputo on March 3, 2016. A hunk of suspected aircraft wreckage found off the east African coast will be sent to Australia where experts will examine whether it is a new piece in the puzzle of missing flight MH370, officials said. The fragment was reportedly found near Mozambique and could provide clues in the huge and costly Australia-led investigation into what happened to the ill-fated Malaysia Airlines flight that disappeared nearly two years ago. / AFP / ADRIEN BARBIER (Photo credit should read ADRIEN BARBIER/AFP/Getty Images)
Joao de Abreu, president of Mozambique's Civil Aviation Institute (IACM), holds a piece of suspected aircraft wreckage found off the east African coast of Mozambique at Mozambique's Civil Aviation Institute (IACM) in Maputo on March 3, 2016. A hunk of suspected aircraft wreckage found off the east African coast will be sent to Australia where experts will examine whether it is a new piece in the puzzle of missing flight MH370, officials said. The fragment was reportedly found near Mozambique and could provide clues in the huge and costly Australia-led investigation into what happened to the ill-fated Malaysia Airlines flight that disappeared nearly two years ago. / AFP / ADRIEN BARBIER (Photo credit should read ADRIEN BARBIER/AFP/Getty Images)
A photo taken on March 3, 2016 shows a piece of suspected aircraft wreckage found off the east African coast of Mozambique at Mozambique's Civil Aviation Institute (IACM) in Maputo. A hunk of suspected aircraft wreckage found off the east African coast will be sent to Australia where experts will examine whether it is a new piece in the puzzle of missing flight MH370, officials said. The fragment was reportedly found near Mozambique and could provide clues in the huge and costly Australia-led investigation into what happened to the ill-fated Malaysia Airlines flight that disappeared nearly two years ago. / AFP / ADRIEN BARBIER (Photo credit should read ADRIEN BARBIER/AFP/Getty Images)
A photo taken on March 3, 2016 shows a piece of suspected aircraft wreckage found off the east African coast of Mozambique at Mozambique's Civil Aviation Institute (IACM) in Maputo. A hunk of suspected aircraft wreckage found off the east African coast will be sent to Australia where experts will examine whether it is a new piece in the puzzle of missing flight MH370, officials said. The fragment was reportedly found near Mozambique and could provide clues in the huge and costly Australia-led investigation into what happened to the ill-fated Malaysia Airlines flight that disappeared nearly two years ago. / AFP / ADRIEN BARBIER (Photo credit should read ADRIEN BARBIER/AFP/Getty Images)
Journalists stand next to a police officer holding a piece of plastic found on the sea front of Saint-Denis, on the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion, on August 4, 2015. Last week a wing part washed up on the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion, and has been taken to France to for physical and chemical analysis. In one of the most baffling mysteries in aviation history, MH370 inexplicably veered off course in March 2014 and disappeared from radars, sparking a colossal hunt that has until now proved fruitless. AFP PHOTO / RICHARD BOUHET (Photo credit should read RICHARD BOUHET/AFP/Getty Images)
A police officer holds a piece of plastic found on the sea front of Saint-Denis, on the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion, on August 4, 2015. Last week a wing part washed up on the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion, and has been taken to France to for physical and chemical analysis. In one of the most baffling mysteries in aviation history, MH370 inexplicably veered off course in March 2014 and disappeared from radars, sparking a colossal hunt that has until now proved fruitless. AFP PHOTO / RICHARD BOUHET (Photo credit should read RICHARD BOUHET/AFP/Getty Images)
Local residents look for debris on a beach of the Etang de Bois Rouge on the sea front of Saint-Andre, on the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion, on August 4, 2015. Last week a wing part washed up on the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion, and has been taken to France to for physical and chemical analysis. In one of the most baffling mysteries in aviation history, MH370 inexplicably veered off course in March 2014 and disappeared from radars, sparking a colossal hunt that has until now proved fruitless. AFP PHOTO / RICHARD BOUHET (Photo credit should read RICHARD BOUHET/AFP/Getty Images)
Johnny Begue (C), who stumbled across a piece of plane wreckage from the ill-fated Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 on the beach on July 29, 2015, help repair the costline in Saint-Andre on the east of the French island of La Reunion, on August 6, 2015. The two-metre (six-foot) long piece of wing, was half covered in sand and had barnacles encrusted on its edges. AFP PHOTO / RICHARD BOUHET (Photo credit should read RICHARD BOUHET/AFP/Getty Images)
Police officers inspect metallic debris found on a beach in Saint-Denis on the French Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean on August 2, 2015, close to where a Boeing 777 wing part believed to belong to missing flight MH370 washed up last week. A piece of metal was found on La Reunion island, where a Boeing 777 wing part believed to belong to missing flight MH370 washed up last week, said a source close to the investigation. Investigators on the Indian Ocean island took the debris into evidence as part of their probe into the fate of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, however nothing indicated the piece of metal came from an airplane, the source said. AFP PHOTO / RICHARD BOUHET (Photo credit should read RICHARD BOUHET/AFP/Getty Images)
This picture taken on August 2, 2015 shows metallic debris found on a beach in Saint-Denis on the French Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean, close to where where a Boeing 777 wing part believed to belong to missing flight MH370 washed up last week. A piece of metal was found on La Reunion island, where a Boeing 777 wing part believed to belong to missing flight MH370 washed up last week, said a source close to the investigation. Investigators on the Indian Ocean island took the debris into evidence as part of their probe into the fate of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, however nothing indicated the piece of metal came from an airplane, the source said. AFP PHOTO / RICHARD BOUHET (Photo credit should read RICHARD BOUHET/AFP/Getty Images)
Police officers leave the scene with container holding metallic debris found on a beach in Saint-Denis on the French Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean on August 2, 2015, close to where where a Boeing 777 wing part believed to belong to missing flight MH370 washed up last week. A piece of metal was found on La Reunion island, where a Boeing 777 wing part believed to belong to missing flight MH370 washed up last week, said a source close to the investigation. Investigators on the Indian Ocean island took the debris into evidence as part of their probe into the fate of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, however nothing indicated the piece of metal came from an airplane, the source said. AFP PHOTO / RICHARD BOUHET (Photo credit should read RICHARD BOUHET/AFP/Getty Images)
Police officers inspect and photograph metallic debris found on a beach in Saint-Denis on the French Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean on August 2, 2015, close to where a Boeing 777 wing part believed to belong to missing flight MH370 washed up last week. A piece of metal was found on La Reunion island, where a Boeing 777 wing part believed to belong to missing flight MH370 washed up last week, said a source close to the investigation. Investigators on the Indian Ocean island took the debris into evidence as part of their probe into the fate of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, however nothing indicated the piece of metal came from an airplane, the source said. AFP PHOTO / RICHARD BOUHET (Photo credit should read RICHARD BOUHET/AFP/Getty Images)
Police officers inspect metallic debris found on a beach in Saint-Denis on the French Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean on August 2, 2015, close to where a Boeing 777 wing part believed to belong to missing flight MH370 washed up last week. A piece of metal was found on La Reunion island, where a Boeing 777 wing part believed to belong to missing flight MH370 washed up last week, said a source close to the investigation. Investigators on the Indian Ocean island took the debris into evidence as part of their probe into the fate of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, however nothing indicated the piece of metal came from an airplane, the source said. AFP PHOTO / RICHARD BOUHET (Photo credit should read RICHARD BOUHET/AFP/Getty Images)
Police carry a piece of debris from an unidentified aircraft found in the coastal area of Saint-Andre de la Reunion, in the east of the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion, on July 29, 2015. The two-metre-long debris, which appears to be a piece of a wing, was found by employees of an association cleaning the area and handed over to the air transport brigade of the French gendarmerie (BGTA), who have opened an investigation. An air safety expert did not exclude it could be a part of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, which went missing in the Indian Ocean on March 8, 2014. AFP PHOTO / YANNICK PITOU (Photo credit should read YANNICK PITOU/AFP/Getty Images)
Police and gendarmes carry a piece of debris from an unidentified aircraft found in the coastal area of Saint-Andre de la Reunion, in the east of the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion, on July 29, 2015. The two-metre-long debris, which appears to be a piece of a wing, was found by employees of an association cleaning the area and handed over to the air transport brigade of the French gendarmerie (BGTA), who have opened an investigation. An air safety expert did not exclude it could be a part of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, which went missing in the Indian Ocean on March 8, 2014. AFP PHOTO / YANNICK PITOU (Photo credit should read YANNICK PITOU/AFP/Getty Images)
ANKARA, TURKEY - JULY 30: Debris found on the island of Reunion east of Madagascar, appears to be part of Malaysia Airlines MH370 that disappeared in 2014. (Photo by Graphic: Ahmet Burak Ozkan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
A policeman and a gendarme stand next to a piece of debris from an unidentified aircraft found in the coastal area of Saint-Andre de la Reunion, in the east of the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion, on July 29, 2015. The two-metre-long debris, which appears to be a piece of a wing, was found by employees of an association cleaning the area and handed over to the air transport brigade of the French gendarmerie (BGTA), who have opened an investigation. An air safety expert did not exclude it could be a part of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, which went missing in the Indian Ocean on March 8, 2014. AFP PHOTO / YANNICK PITOU (Photo credit should read YANNICK PITOU/AFP/Getty Images)
A policeman and a gendarme stand next to a piece of debris from an unidentified aircraft found in the coastal area of Saint-Andre de la Reunion, in the east of the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion, on July 29, 2015. The two-metre-long debris, which appears to be a piece of a wing, was found by employees of an association cleaning the area and handed over to the air transport brigade of the French gendarmerie (BGTA), who have opened an investigation. An air safety expert did not exclude it could be a part of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, which went missing in the Indian Ocean on March 8, 2014. AFP PHOTO / YANNICK PITOU (Photo credit should read YANNICK PITOU/AFP/Getty Images)
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The ship could complete the search within three or four weeks, and cover up to 60,000 square km in 90 days, or four times faster than earlier efforts, Plunkett told Reuters.

"It was a unique problem that required a unique solution... We looked at it and said, 'Let's do something different than what other people would do,' and that's the essence of our business."

Ocean Infinity's core business is in the oil and gas industry, as well as subsea exploration services for tasks such as underwater cabling and seabed mapping, he said.

The company's shareholders would bear the upfront costs of the search, Plunkett added.

Debris from MH370 could provide clues to events on board before the crash. There have been competing theories that the aircraft suffered mechanical failure or was intentionally flown off course.

Investigators believe someone may have deliberately switched off the plane's transponder before diverting it thousands of miles out over the Indian Ocean.

At least three pieces of debris collected from sites on Indian Ocean islands and along Africa's east coast have been confirmed as being from the missing plane.

(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff; Writing by Praveen Menon; Editing by Jamie Freed and Clarence Fernandez)

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