Maritime patrols have increased their presence around the French island of La Réunion, where debris strongly suspected to have come from missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 was found last week.
In the wake of criticism that the island’s authorities were not doing enough to look for more floating debris, coastal searches have been initiated by the maritime wing of the Forces Armées de la Zone Sud de l’Océan Indien (FAZSOI – the French military forces of the southern Indian Ocean).
In addition, aerial surveillance with a helicopter and Casa fixed-wing aircraft is being conducted over the waters around Réunion. FAZSOI is co-operating with the Mauritius National Coast Guard, which has been operating air and sea surveillance patrols since the beginning of the week.
Foot patrols along the east coast of Réunion have also been intensified, but a suggestion by Malaysian transport minister Liow Tiong Lai yesterday that seats and aircraft windows had been found there were discounted by French and Australian investigators.
The Southern Equatorial Current that was forecast to bring MH370 debris to Mauritius and Réunion also washes the east coast of Madagascar before dispersing northwards and southwards.
Quoted by ABC News, military spokesman Col Philibert Ratovonirina said that coastal authorities and police in Madagascar had also been put on the alert for possible aircraft debris.
The cash-strapped and politically unstable country lacks sufficient coastguard resources to patrol its long coastline, but is calling on the local population for assistance. Col Ratovonirina said, “We have to rely on fishermen and others who are there all the time to help us.”
Australia’s Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC), which is in charge of the search for MH370, told IHS Maritime, “In the event that the wreckage found on La Réunion is identified as being from MH370, it would be consistent with other analysis and modelling that the resting place of the aircraft is in the southern Indian Ocean.”
Aviation safety specialist Xavier Tytelman, quoted by Réunionnais website Linfo, said that it was highly unlikely that all the debris would arrive in the same place at the same time. JACC agreed: “The drift modelling indicates that if there is any more floating debris from MH370, it could be anywhere in hundreds of thousands of square kilometres in the Indian Ocean.”
In response to doubts expressed about the location of the undersea search area, JACC said, “The retrieval of the flaperon at La Réunion, 16 months after the disappearance of MH370, is consistent with the current underwater search area in the southern Indian Ocean where exhaustive analysis has concluded the aircraft entered the water on 8 March 2014…. It is heartening that the discovery of the flaperon is consistent with our search area and we will continue to search this area thoroughly in the expectation we will find the missing aircraft.
Yesterday Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak told media in Kuala Lumpur: “It is with a very heavy heart that I must tell you that an international team of experts has conclusively confirmed that the aircraft debris … is indeed MH370.” French officials were more cautious, saying only that there was a “strong possibility” that the flaperon had come from the missing Boeing 777.
In Toulouse, France, aviation accident investigators from France’s Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses (BEA) and the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) are continuing to analyse the flaperon, a 2m-long section of the wing.