The Growth of Sea Life on Indian Ocean Flotsam

After eight months adrift in the southern Indian Ocean. Click to enlarge

To understand what the barnacles growing on the Reunion flaperon can tell us about its history in the ocean, it’s important to have other pieces of flotsam to compare it with. Earlier, I posted a picture of a boat that had drifted across the north Pacific for about the same length of time as has elapsed since the disappearance of MH370. The density of sea life was far higher. But perhaps that’s due to the fact that it was immersed in relatively nutrient-rich waters. A more useful comparison might be to debris that has drifted in the Indian Ocean.

In May of 2013 a LeisureCat Sportsfisher motorboat capsized in a storm off the northwestern coast of Australia and drifted out to sea. (Many thanks to @Matty for bringing this up in the comments section.) Eight months later, it washed up on the shores of Mayotte Island, off the coast of Madagascar, as seen above. To put it in context, it started drifting 1700 nautical miles northeast of the current search area, and wound up 800 nautical miles northwest of Reunion.

One striking difference with the Reunion flaperon is the presence of an obvious waterline, above which no marine growth is present. You can see the barnacles and algae more clearly in the picture below:

5186348-3x2-940x627I wish the pictures were higher resolution, but they seem to show goose barnacles that are at a similar density and size as those on the flaperon, and much smaller and less dense than those in the tsunami debris photo.

Here are a couple more photos of the same boat:




Note that the stickers and lettering have remained in place.

69 thoughts on “The Growth of Sea Life on Indian Ocean Flotsam”

  1. Littlefoot – note also that all that Chinese foot stomping from early on has evaporated and now looks awfully like what I thought it was at the time – theatre.

  2. @Matty, now that you mention it: Have the Chinese authorities said anything worthwhile at all since the flaperon has been found a month ago? I can’t come up with a thing. Strange, isnt’t it, considering that 150 passengers were Chinese citizens on their way to Beijing and the flight was code-shared by a Chinese airline. Maybe, it just made the national news, but the Chinese authorities seem to keep a very low profile as far as the flap is concerned. As you say, no foot stomping at all, while they are aguably the party with the largest death toll.

  3. So who were these well connected guys who so adamantly told Miles O’Brien that the simulator points straight to the SIO? And who are the people who drop in here on occasion to discourage curiosity and stick to the narrative? The stuck records with similar motives? And then the flaperon…..

  4. Bruce,

    At least I hear you. Interesting insight and photos. I consider “slow fire” as one of the two most likely scenarios. I strongly disagree with Jeff, IG, and others, who say that there are many questions. Not at all. The only real remaining question is why the crew did not attempt to dump fuel. Interestingly, not all the modern aircrafts equipped with the respective technical means ( Was 9M-MRO equipped with a fuel dumping system?

  5. @Oleksandr, If you consider “slow fire” as a likely scenario, then please write up a description of it, including an explanation for why the crew made no attempt to communicate; why they accelerated after IGARI and flew straight between multiple turns; and how the SDU logged off and logged back on again. I will post it here.

  6. @Jeff these are good questions. Perhaps you suggested some partial answers in your analysis of AF447:

    “How, in the age of satellite navigation and instantaneous global communication, could a state-of-the art airliner simply vanish? It was a mystery that lasted for two years. . . . Under pressure, human beings can lose their ability to think clearly and to properly execute their training—a well-known failing that has proven all too difficult to eliminate.”

  7. Jeff,

    These questions were already discussed many times. See, for example, what I suggested on March 24, 2015 at 9:56 AM ( It was never discarded as impossible. Low probability – yes. But not impossible.

    In brief, under this scenario:
    “why the crew made no attempt to communicate”:
    They tried, but ran out of the time. The event destroyed coaxial cables just behind the cockpit and knocked down SDU (same place).

    “why they accelerated after IGARI and flew straight between multiple turns”:
    Their logic was as follows:
    1. They turned back: the shortest distance to the Malaysian shore + avoidance of the mountains to cross the Malay Peninsula;
    2. It took them approximately the same time to assess damage as in the case of QF32.
    3. They passed by Butterworth hoping to attract military attention and establish visual contact as long as they were unable to communicate.
    4. They took a decision to cycle over the Malacca to burn or dump fuel. Penang, Langkawi, Car Nikobar and Maimun Saleh are comparatively suitable for emergency landing. The last two are especially suitable due to the over-the-water approach and minimization of the chances to collide with other aircrafts on the land. This is in contrast to KLIA.

    “and how the SDU logged off and logged back on again”:
    SDU logged off because of the fire event, or tire burst, etc., which damaged cables. The same event destroyed HVF coaxial cables just behind the cockpit. SDU log on back because the damage was not substantial, and the Captain managed to repair it by 18:25. However, the crew did not have sufficient time to report emergency and even pick up the call 18:40 as they were rapidly loosing control, or they were preparing for emergency landing shortly after 18:25.

  8. @Matty @Littlefoot Interesting comment on how China’s initial response was all theater. I presented a possible motive of Uyghur deporataion in an earlier post. If that were the case how would the affected parties respond? Destroy records in a fire? Plant false evidence in the ocean? Declare the event closed at every opportunity? Delay the release of information? Provide incomplete information? Hide information they must know? or ignore it and hope it all goes away quietly? Can countries be charged with obstruction of justice?

    Truth is the daughter of time and conspiracies eventually unravel. Malaysia and China eagerly supported looking in the SIO because they knew the plane wasn’t there. Let’s give Malaysia 20 choices for possible locations and look in the areas they say are least likely. Let’s see how they respond to the German report and then we’ll know how close we are.

  9. Since the flaperon was found in water it will keep searchers looking in water, not on land. Maybe Jeff was getting too close with Kazahkstan and they had to come up with a diversion.

  10. @Trip, can you present your motive – earlier deportations of Uighurs by Malaysia- again? From which faction would be the culprits in that scenario in your opinion?
    That motive would make a lot of sense, since China had also executed Uighur leaders two days earlier. And China was under a heightened terror alert at March 8, 2014. According to some sources Beijing airport and subway system were potential targets. A plane on it’s way to Beijing suddenly going missing should’ve had everybody in a searching frenzy. As we know the opposite was true and the plane and it’s abductors were never heard of again.

  11. @Trip, problem is that the motive fits well, but what actually happened doesn’t fit the normal scheme of a terror act.

  12. @littlefoot, @Trip: while this is unconfirmed, maybe there was a high level Uighur on board flight MH370 which needed capture.

  13. @Oleksandr,

    You had me up until the very end. Why did they try to repair the SDU (or its cabling)?

    Eastern Flight 401, in which a crew crashed a perfectly good airplane into the Everglades, marked the beginning of a new emphasis on aviate-navigate-communicate and cockpit management. The crew crashed the plane trying to fix a light bulb, in effect.

    It would strike me as very strange that the crew on MH370 was busy fixing a coax cable at 18:28, so I’m curious to hear an explanation.

  14. JS,

    They could attempt to repair whatever was easier to repair. And communication was needed to get emergency services ready, as well as avoid collision on the ground. If the aircraft was aerodynamically stable, why not?

  15. Looking back over the Factual Information, I see that MH370 was delivered without a fixed ELT; it was installed in 2004-2005 and was manufactured by ELTA FRANCE, not Honeywell. Factual Information p. 31. I withdraw my suggestion that the AAIB report is a significant development.

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