Australia has chosen a Dutch firm to help it map the Indian Ocean floor as the search for missing flight MH370 heads deeper under water.
Netherlands-based Fugro Survey will help a Chinese military vessel survey the ocean bed as part of the next stage of the quest to find the Malaysia Airlines plane that vanished three months ago.
The announcement came after Australian and Malaysian officials met in Canberra to discuss funding and assets for the unprecedented mission, after a huge air and sea search failed to find any sign of the aircraft.
Months of searching has failed to turn up any trace of the Boeing 777, which disappeared on March 8 carrying 239 people after taking off from Kuala Lumpur bound for Beijing.
The next phase of the search, which will be handed over from the military to the private sector, is expected to start in August and take up to a year, covering 60,000 sq km of ocean at a cost of at least A$60 million (HK$435 million).
The search is already the most expensive in aviation history.
"The bathymetric survey will provide a map of the underwater search zone, charting the contours, depths and composition of the sea floor in water depths up to 6,000 metres," the Joint Agency Coordination Centre said.
Fugro's state-of-the-art vessel MV Fugro Equator, which is equipped with a deep water multibeam echo sounder system, will work with Chinese PLA Navy ship Zhu Kezhen.
The two vessels are expected to take about three months to complete the mapping ahead of the underwater search by an as-yet undetermined contractor.
Malaysia's costs for the search mission have so far been about one-tenth of the US$84 million Australia expects to spend on the search for the plane.
"The government has allocated A$89.9 million. I think about A$25 million of that is to go to the defence force for the visual search they conducted," retired air chief marshal Angus Houston, who is head of the Joint Agency Coordination Centre , said.
The remaining A$60 million has been allocated to the underwater operation in the southern Indian Ocean where the plane is believed to have crashed.
Malaysian Deputy Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Bakri said the "costs will be shared 50-50 between Malaysia and Australia".