A Chinese ship mapping the ocean floor ahead of an intensive underwater search for missing Flight MH370 was returning to port yesterday due to a technical problem.
The massive Indian Ocean search for the Malaysia Airlines plane, which disappeared on March 8 carrying 239 people, has so far failed to find any sign of the Boeing 777.
The Chinese survey ship, Zhu Kezhen, was conducting a bathymetric survey - or mapping of the ocean floor - to help experts determine how to carry out the next stage of the search on the previously unmapped ocean seabed.
"Zhu Kezhen suffered a defect to its multibeam echosounder and is coming into port to conduct the necessary repairs," Australia's Joint Agency Co-ordination Centre (JACC) said. "The journey is expected to take a couple of days."
Watch: What we know about Malaysia Airlines flight MH370
The search for MH370 has been continually frustrated and last week Australia ruled out an area considered a possible resting place of the plane after a mini-sub dived repeatedly to the seabed and found nothing.
Officials believe the plane diverted from its Kuala Lumpur to Beijing route and ended up in the Indian Ocean, but have little to go on besides satellite signalling messages sent between aircraft, satellite and ground station.
Experts are now reanalysing this satellite data to confirm a search area as well as mapping the sea floor in preparation for the commercially contracted deep-sea search, which is expected to begin in August and take up to 12 months.
JACC said an Australian contracted survey vessel would also be involved in conducting the bathymetric survey, and would arrive in the search area this month.
Australia is leading the hunt for MH370, which disappeared in its search and rescue area, in consultation with Malaysia and China, whose citizens accounted for nearly two-thirds of those onboard the flight.
Malaysia insists it is doing all it can in what is an unprecedented situation but the relatives of those on the plane have expressed anger and frustration at the lack of progress, nearly three months after the plane vanished.