The ship carrying out the search for missing Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 vanished from tracking screens for three days, prompting a stream of speculation after no initial explanation was initially given for its disappearance.
US-based firm Ocean Infinity began searching for the missing Boeing 777 aircraft – which disappeared with 239 people aboard en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing in March 2014 – on 22 January.
After 10 days of searching, the company’s ship switched off its Automatic Identification System (AIS) on Thursday and disappeared from tracking screens.
The reason for the unexpected three-day outage initially remained unclear – prompting a raft of conspiracy theories and online speculation.
But Ocean Infinity told The Independent the decision was taken to switch the tracking system off because the crew had located some points of interest.
They said the firm did not want to raise false hopes by remaining in the same area for an extended period – and in the process alerting those closely tracking the vessel’s movements.
“As highlighted in the weekly report there were a couple of points of interest identified last week. These turned out to be of no significance,” a spokesperson for the firm said.
“Ocean Infinity did not want to give the impression they had found the wreckage.”
The Malaysian government, which hired the firm to search for the missing plane, had not provided an explanation for the disappearance.
Three days after it vanished from radars, Seabed Constructor, the company’s ship, reappeared outside the search area and on its way to a scheduled refuelling stop at the Australian port of Fremantle.
Seabed Constructor has 90 days to find MH370 – whose disappearance is one of the greatest mysteries in aviation history – on a no-find no-fee basis.
This means the firm will only be paid if the plane if recovered – a reward of between US$20m and $70m is available depending on the area searched.
KS Narendran, who had a relative on MH370, said he deserved an explanation for the disappearance.
“I found the development quite odd, and worrying. If this silence and becoming invisible was intentional, to ward off suspicion, a satisfactory explanation is due,” he told The Guardian.
“If it was for other reasons, then in the interests of transparency, we ought to be told what caused it.
“There are no journalists and no family members on board the search ship. I wish there were some … We watch on in good faith. I hope ongoing official disclosure is of such a high order that there is little room for speculation, controversy or a whiff of conspiracy.”
A source at the firm dismissed rumours about what the vessel was doing in the temporary blackout – including one that Seabed Constructor took a secret detour to recover sunken treasure from the wreckage of what is believed to be the SV Inca, a Peruvian ship that vanished en route to Sydney in 1911.
Malaysian officials said MH370 had not been found in the first week of the search – between 22 and 30 January.
MH370 disappeared after its communication systems were switched off just an hour after taking off. Investigators from China, Australia and Malaysia ended one of the largest surface and underwater searches in aviation history last January without recovering the plane.
The operation covered 46,332 sq miles at an estimated cost of around £120m before it was suspended after 1,046 days. While several pieces of aircraft debris have been recovered the passenger jet’s final resting place continues to be a mystery.
The Independent contacted Malaysia Airlines and the Malaysian government for comment.