A large Norwegian car carrier was trolling the dark and rough waters of the southernmost Indian Ocean on Thursday, after changing course and joining the search for a Malaysian Airlines jumbo jet that went missing nearly two weeks ago. Visibility was poor, but hopes were rising that portions of the aircraft might finally be found.
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported Thursday that Oslo-based shipowning company Rederiet Höegh had been contacted two days ago by Australian search and rescue authorities, asking whether Höegh could dispatch one of its vessels to help in the search. Höegh runs regular liner service carrying vehicles between Asia to Europe, and quickly responded affirmatively.
“We as a shipping nation have a culture of contributing when there are concerns about folks in need of maritime assistance,” Ingar Skiaker, a director of Höegh Autoliners, told reporters on Thursday. Höegh had a vessel that left Port Louis in Mauritius, heading for Melbourne this week with a load of vehicles from South Africa, that could respond to the call for assistance.
Höegh’s car carrier Höegh St Petersburg thus changed course and headed for the area where surveillance photos from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority had picked up sightings of two large objects in the water, one estimated to be about 24 meters long (nearly 80 feet) and the other five meters. The objects, they suspect, may be remnants of the missing jet.
The area is located about 2,500 kilometers southwest of Perth in choppy waters leading into the treacherous Southern Ocean. All told, 18 ships, 29 aircraft and six helicopters launched from ships have been taking part in the search along corridors where the Malaysian jeg may have crashed, with 239 persons on board, after disappearing from radar screens on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
The Höegh vessel is the first to arrive in the area where the floating objects were sighted but heavy fog was making the search difficult. Skiaker said the vessel’s crew of 19 men from the Philippines were on deck searching the waters and using torchlights after darkness fell.
The captain of the vessel, in contact with Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet, said a rescue aircraft was circling over the ship and covering a wide area. “We’re in constant contact with each other,” the captain told Aftonbladet. “If we see anything, we’ll report it to each other.”