Fourth ship joins MH370 underwater search

SYDNEY - A fourth ship with enhanced search capabilities has been commissioned to join the underwater hunt for missing flight MH370, Australian authorities said Wednesday, with 14,000 square kilometres (5,405 square miles) of the sea floor scoured so far.

The Fugro Supporter is set to join fellow ships Fugro Equator and Fugro Discovery in the remote search zone in the southern Indian Ocean, where officials believe the Malaysian Airlines aircraft carrying 239 people might have crashed.

The jet disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8 and no sign of it has been found despite a massive air and sea operation.

"(The Fugro Supporter) is equipped with an autonomous underwater vehicle," spokesman Daniel O'Malley of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, which is leading the search, told AFP.

"That will be used to scan the portions of the search area that can't be searched effectively by the equipment on the other search vessels." The Supporter is due to join the hunt far off western Australia in late January.

Along with the Equator and Discovery, the Supporter has been provided by Dutch company Fugro and jointly funded by the Australian and Malaysian governments. GO Phoenix is contracted by the Malaysian government.

If there are no delays, the current search is expected to be completed in May.

About 208,000 square kilometres of ocean has been mapped.

Australia has been spearheading the hunt for the plane, a dauntingly vast task that has been beset by false leads and initial confusion - to the continued frustration of grieving relatives, mostly from China.