Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 (MH370), carrying 239 people, disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing in March 2014.
On Friday, an airline support group told families of the victims that the hi-tech ship which left Durban this week would be allowed to resume the search. Australia, China and Malaysia ended a fruitless search last January.
An e-mail sent from the MH Family Support Centre and seen by Reuters, said the government had accepted an offer by the company, Ocean Infinity, which owns Seabed Constructor, to resume the search on a “no cure, no fee” basis, meaning the company will only get paid if they find the plane.
A government spokesperson declined to confirm that an e-mail had been sent to families but said more details would be forthcoming.
The hi-tech ocean vessel, carrying a team of international “ocean explorers”, headed from Durban towards the South Indian Ocean to scour the seabed for signs of the plane.
Clues provided by South Africans could prove vital in narrowing down where the plane could have gone down.
US adventurer and lawyer Blaine Gibson, who launched his own investigation into the MH370 mystery and tracked down numerous pieces of plane debris off Africa's east coast, said South Africans may well play a key role in solving one of the biggest aviation mysteries should the missing plane be located.
On March 8, 2014, an hour into the flight over the South China Sea, voice contact was lost. The 227 passengers from different countries and 12 Malaysian crew members have not been heard of since.
Liam Lotter, from Wartburg in KZN, found debris on a Mozambique beach during his 2016 December holidays, which later proved to be from the MH370 flight, while Neels Kruger found more debris belonging to the plane on a beach in Mossel Bay.
Gibson came to Durban in August 2016, where he met Lotter and Kruger and the trio scoured the KZN coast for four days for more debris, but with no further success.
Speaking from his home in the US this week, Gibson said he had been on board the Seabed Constructor while she was in Durban for a few days over the new year, one of the last ports it will call on en route to the search zone.
“The debris found by the South Africans has already proved to be very valuable in narrowing down the search. Thanks to them, the search is being renewed.
“Following the disappearance of the plane, the official search covered a very large area and was too far south. All the debris found on the African coastline indicates the crash site is further north.
“I visited the ship (Seabed Constructor) when it was in Durban port and was very impressed with the technology on board and her crew.
“Ocean Infinity has better information and technology than in the first search and they have the best chance of finding the crash site and the black box which would tell us what happened. I hope they find it, the families need answers,” said Gibson.
During his search for clues, Gibson found debris from the missing plane on a sandbar off the Mozambique coast and on the Madagascar coast.
He said an Australian oceanographer, who had done a drift analysis, had told him the most likely places debris would wash up would be on the eastern coastlines of Madagascar and South Africa, particularly Durban.
Yesterday, Lotter said he had remained in contact with Gibson and was excited to hear about the new search.
“I am definitely excited to see what happens next. It has been a couple of years and the families of the missing passengers need some closure,” he said.
While the governments of Malaysia, China and Australia called off the official search in January last year, which had been described as one of the most extensive and costliest in aviation history, the new search was expected to be confirmed in the coming week.
The exhaustive hunt was estimated to have cost in the region of R2.1billion.
Now Ocean Infinity is awaiting the finalisation of a contract from the Malaysian government.
An Ocean Infinity company spokesperson said: “Ocean Infinity is hopeful of receiving the final contract award for the resumption of the search for MH370 over the coming days. With a relatively narrow weather window, we are moving the vessel, Seabed Constructor, towards the vicinity of the possible search zone.
"This is designed to save time should the contract award be forthcoming, as hoped. We will confirm as and when the contract is awarded and the search can resume.”
A Durban Port control spokesperson said the Seabed Constructor arrived at the port “for cleaning at Dormac floating dock”.
None of the passengers on the doomed flight were South African, with the majority being Chinese.
Investigators believed someone may have deliberately switched off the transponder of the Boeing 777 before diverting it over the Indian Ocean.