After exhausting all appeals, former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak was convicted of the “1Malaysia Development Berhad” scandal two years ago. But another of Mr. Razak’s financial shenanigans used missing airliner MH370 for bait. For that, Razak needed and received help from former Australian Prime Minister Malcomb Turnbull, who helped defraud a Good Samaritan search effort undertaken by the firm Ocean Infinity.
As a tribute to the 238 MH370 victims representing eleven languages, this article is also available in Google-Translated variations: Bahasha, Chinese, Deutsche, Français, Hindee, Italiano, Malay, Nederlands, Russkiy, Ukrayinsʹka; at this link: https://mikechillit.net.
On January 10, 2018 Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak directed his Minister of Transport, Mr. Liow Tiong Lai, to enter into a formal agreement on behalf of Malaysia with Ocean Infinity’s CEO, Oliver Plunkett. The agreement that emerged authorized a sole-source search for MH370: primarily in the Southern Ocean. That thumping noise at the time was Dr. Albert Einstein turning in his grave. Because, unknown to Ocean Infinity, the laws of Physics and Mathematics would have to have been rewritten for the plane to have flown anywhere near the Southern Ocean. It was an impossible scenario, but a scenario many people continued to embrace in 2018, including Mr. Plunkett and his staff. In fact, most of those involved in the original search still harbored a belief that the plane could be anywhere its fuel reserves permitted it to go. They had not learned that the radius of the final ping, in relation to the tracking satellite’s GPS location at that moment, meant the plane could not possibly have crashed where four years of searching had already failed.
The agreement was characterized as a “no find, no fee” contract. It provided that Ocean Infinity would be paid up to US $70 million if it successfully located the plane’s debris field. But, in the event Ocean Infinity was unable to locate the plane, it would be responsible for all of its own costs; receiving nothing in the way of remuneration from Malaysia or anyone else. “No find, no fee” contracts are fairly common in deep-sea salvage. It is speculative work with a high risk of failure. Oliver Plunkett and his firm were well acquainted with high risk salvage, but they were no match for Najib Razak’s calculus.
At the time the agreement between Ocean Infinity and Malaysia was signed in January 2018, fewer than 20 people worldwide are believed to have known exactly where the plane crashed; among those who knew were Najib Razak and Liow Tiong Lai. Prima facie, the agreement Najib Razak engineered with Ocean Infinity was “a scam” every step of the way. Ponzi would have been in awe; partly because Oliver Plunkett is very good at what he does; but even Plunkett was no match for Kuala Lumpur. And the finesse with which it was pulled off cemented Najib Razak’s legacy as a master of financial shenanigans.
The contract Mr. Razak crafted and that was then signed by Oliver Plunkett on January 10, 2018 actually prevented Plunkett’s firm from locating MH370: 1) it required Ocean Infinity to limit its search to areas determined most likely to harbor wreckage; 2) the individual who would make search geography decisions was Australia’s Dr. David Griffin; 3) Griffin was well acquainted with MH370 after spending several years on the original search; 4) but Griffin was also known to believe the plane had to have flown into the Southern Ocean, a mathematical impossibility Dr. Griffin did not understand at that point, and Mr. Razak knew that; 5) the contract also required Ocean Infinity to sail with what some have characterized as “two snitches”; their jobs were to ensure that Ocean Infinity complied with the agreement. That was code of sorts that meant Ocean Infinity would not be permitted to sail far enough north to stray into the plane’s known terminal location.
At least part of Mr. Razak’s motive for all of that appears to have been to gain favor with MH370 families without actually revealing the plane’s crash site. Risks associated with permitting Ocean Infinity to actually locate the plane included: 1) failure to report it when Germany confirmed it in June 2017; 2) and risk of airing whatever might be recovered from the flight recorders. Mr. Razak was already facing 1MDB charges. He nevertheless wanted to spiff up his resume for the home crowd to make a good showing in his reelection campaign. Mr. Razak was nothing if not one of the most optimistic and determined individuals on planet earth.
Where is MH370?
The largest portion of the wreckage lies at -22.2°S, 102.4°E. That location was well beyond the geographical limit of the search, as defined by CSIRO’s David Griffin, which ended at about -33.2°S. Nevertheless, Plunkett’s Ocean Infinity was permitted to scan all the way north to about -24.8°S; roughly 300 kilometers south of the plane’s fuselage. Kuala Lumpur took few chances.
As for “who knew where the plane was located” in January 2018, the following list identifies those who were either aboard the R/V Sonne for the Voyage to scan Zenith Abyss, or were instrumental in locating the plane prior to the Sonne voyage. Knowledge of the purpose of the Zenith exploration and its ramifications appears to have been tightly controlled. Only a few individuals in Germany, Australia, and Malaysia were kept abreast of findings. Most of those on the cruise, “33 scientists and technicians from 10 different countries”, are believed to have been kept in the dark about the purpose of the Zenith portion of the cruise:
- Darren Chester, Outgoing Australia Minister for Infrastructure and Transport
- Jonathan Durgadoo, Ph.D., Germany, Geomar Scientist
- Greg Hood, Australia Chief Commissioner and Chief Executive Officer for the Australian Transport Safety Bureau
- Alan Jamieson, Ph.D., Marine Biologist, Abyssal Camera Lander Specialist
- Barnaby Joyce, Incoming Australia Minister of Infrastructure, Transport, and Regional Development
- Liow Tiong Lai, Transport Minister of Malaysia;
- NOAA knew where the plane crashed almost immediately, but appears to have shared that only with Canberra and Kuala Lumpur.
- Najib Razak, Prime Minister of Malaysia
- Malcomb Turnbull, Prime Minister of Australia
- Reinhard Werner, Ph.D., Germany, Marine Geologist with Geomar
There were certainly others in the know, but probably not many as of January 2018 when Ocean Infinity set sail into what it believed was a legitimate good-faith search for MH370. Incidentally, the author was generous with Australia’s Malcolm Turnbull, whose archives now include a package of graphics sent to him showing the same math and location I had given Geomar’s Jonathan Durgadoo.
Knowledge of the plane’s location seems to have been fairly limited in late 2017 when Ocean Infinity made its high profile gamble. The company was just getting started, had relocated from UK to Texas, so a big part of Ocean Infinity’s interest was in a little free publicity that sometimes accompanies high profile mysteries. But the company was also entirely serious about conducting a rigorous search.
As for Germany, where Geomar’s R/V Sonne and crew physically found a debris field no one else had been able to find, I have no information on who was or wasn’t in the loop. Germany can keep a secret; sometimes.
The two-page contract between Ocean Infinity and Malaysia is shown below. To the best of the author’s knowledge, there were no additional terms or conditions.
Liow Tiong Lai
Minister Of Transport
At MH370-Ocean Infinity Signing Ceremony
10 January 2018
- Good afternoon everyone.
- First and foremost, I wish to thank all of you particularly the families and loved ones of those on board MH370 and members of the media for your presence here today.
- I would like to take this opportunity to explain briefly regarding the further search operations to locate MH370 by Ocean Infinity.
- Based on the agreement, Ocean Infinity will undertake search operation to locate flight MH370 at an area of 25,000 square kilometer within the priority search area on South Indian Ocean based on a “no cure no fee” basis within a 90-day time frame. The search operation is scheduled to commence mid January 2018.
- As we speak, the vessel, Seabed Constructor is currently on her way to the search area, taking advantage of the favorable weather condition in the South Indian Ocean.
- We have on board 65 crew including two (2) personnel from Royal Malaysian Navy as the Government of Malaysia’s representative.
- The primary mission by Ocean Infinity is to identify the location of the wreckage and/or both of the flight recorders; Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) and Flight Data Recorder (FDR) and present a considerable and credible evidence to confirm the exact location of the two main items.
- The payment/reward to Ocean Infinity is subject to the area where the wreckage is located based on the division of the search area as agreed in the agreement:
(i) RM82 million (USD20 million) for the 5,000 square kilometer primary search area.
(ii) RM122 million (USD30 million) for the subsequent 10,000 square kilometer secondary search area.
(iii) RM204 million (USD50 million) for another 10,000 square kilometer tertiary search area.
(iv) RM285 million (USD70 million) for additional supplementary search area beyond 25,000 square kilometer.
- The MH370 Response Team, headed by the Director General of Civil Aviation along with officials from my ministry, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Communication and Multimedia. Other agencies such as the Royal Malaysian Police and the Attorney General’s Chambers will be monitoring the works done by Ocean Infinity via an operation room established within DCA premise.
- The team will be updating the families of those on board MH370 via text messages and email as well as updated information on the MH370 official website under the nok section at (hyperlink removed) as and when new information becomes available.
- Once again, I wish to thank all of you for attending this ceremony today.
- I would like to reiterate our unwavering commitments towards solving the mystery of MH370 incident.
- Our thoughts and prayers have and will always be with all the families and loved ones of those on board MH370 as we stand with you in these trying times.
- It my hope that we will find answer that we seek for nearly four years and bring some closure to this unfortunate incident.
- With that I thank all of you.
Liow Tiong Lai
The following photos are listed by the first letter of the last name in the English alphabet.
Darren Chester, outgoing Australia Aviation Minister, 2017.
Jonathan Durgadoo, Ph.D. Dr. Durgadoo developed a drift model for MH370’s right flaperon that was found on a Reunion Island beach in 2015, due west of the crash site.
David Griffin, Ph.D., Australia’s CSIRO; By all accounts, Dr. Griffin has a reputation for being among the most guileless of those who worked on the search for Australia. He is considered a “straight shooter” who worked tirelessly on various aspects of the search.
Greg Hood, Australia Transport Safety Bureau, taken September 2018. Mr. Hood famously threatened his entire staff with criminal prosecution in 2017 if they revealed that MH370 had been located by Germany’s Geomar, not Australia.
Barnaby Joyce, Incoming Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, and Regional Development Infrastructure & Transport, 2018.
Liow Tiong Lai, Malaysia Minister of Transport, 2014–2018. He served as Minister in the Razak government during Ocean Infinity’s 2018 efforts to locate MH370.
Ocean Infinity CEO Oliver Plunkett; who organized a “Mercy Search” for MH370 in late 2017. Although unsuccessful, Mr. Plunkett was the only private sector CEO to step forward in an effort to help bring the tragedy to a close.
Najib Razak, Malaysia Prime Minister, 2009–2018. Mr. Razak offered to pay Ocean Infinity up to US$70 million for locating MH370 after several years of failure by others. What Mr. Razak failed to disclose is that he knew precisely where the plane crashed, and made sure Ocean Infinity would not be allowed to search that location.
Malcomb Turnbull, Australian Prime Minister, 2017–2018. Believed to have been instrumental in preventing MH370’s terminal location from being publicly announced.
Reinhard Werner, Ph.D., Principal Investigator for R/V Sonne Cruise SO258/1; June — July 2017; first known sonar scan of MH370’s debris field.