CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — The hunt for the Malaysian airliner in the Indian Ocean has been set back with two of the three search ships sustaining damage to vital equipment in recent days, officials said on Wednesday.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau, which is coordinating the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, said Wednesday that a piece of underwater communications equipment fitted to the Havila Harmony had become tangled in fishing net and had been bent.
The damage was discovered by divers last week the during a maintenance visit to the Australian west coast city of Perth. The equipment is scheduled to be replaced by Thursday when the Havila Harmony will leave Perth to return to the southern Indian Ocean, the bureau said.
The Havila Harmony carries an underwater drone fitted with cameras and high-resolution sonar equipment needed to scour difficult terrain.
The bureau revealed on Monday that the search of 120 square kilometers (46,000 square miles) of seabed where the Boeing 777 is thought to have crashed two years ago had been disrupted when another search ship lost its sonar equipment.
The Fugro Discovery towed its side-scan sonar unit on Sunday into a mud volcano that rose 2,200 meters (7,200 feet) from the sea floor, the bureau said.
The ship lost the sonar unit plus 4.5 kilometers (14,800 feet) of cable. The ship was now making a six-day journey to the Australian port of Fremantle to collect new cable and will continue the search with spare sonar equipment, it said.
A third ship, the Fugro Equator, will continue its sonar search until Feb. 4, when it begins its return journey to Fremantle to be resupplied, the bureau said.
More than 85,000 square kilometers (32,800 square miles) of the search area has been scoured since late 2014.
Flight 370 vanished with 239 people aboard on March 8, 2014, after mysteriously flying far off course during a flight from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia to Beijing. A wing flap found in July on the other side of the Indian Ocean when it washed up on Reunion Island is the only debris recovered.