(Recasts with Malaysian minister's comments)
By Stuart Grudgings and Matt Siegel
KUALA LUMPUR/SYDNEY May 15 Malaysia, China and
Australia have agreed to re-examine all data related to missing
Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 to better pinpoint the
search area, Malaysia's acting transport minister said on
Thursday, as the hunt for the jet enters a new phase.
The three countries also agreed at a meeting in Canberra
last week to undertake a survey to map the ocean floor and
procure more deep-sea search vehicles and other equipment to
scour it, minister Hishammuddin Hussein told reporters in Kuala
"I have briefed the Malaysia cabinet yesterday on the
outcome of the meeting and it has been deliberated. I now have
the mandate to announce that the details of the transition
phase have been approved by the Malaysian government," he said.
The Boeing 777 with 239 passengers and crew
disappeared on March 8 during a scheduled service between Kuala
Lumpur and Beijing, and is believed to have gone down in the
Indian Ocean, off western Australia. About two-thirds of the
passengers were Chinese nationals.
Australia would have responsibility for procuring new search
assets from commercial contractors, Hishammuddin said, while
Malaysia and China would assign additional equipment and
services for the search.
Hishammuddin said he would discuss the possibility of more
U.S. technical help with U.S. Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel at a
summit in Singapore later this month.
Hishammuddin said it was vital to carry out the undersea
bathymetric survey to map the new search area so that the
expensive and scarce deep-sea autonomous vehicles and towed
sonar scanners could be deployed safely.
"It is important the bathymetric survey and deep water
search needs to be seamless," said Hishammuddin, who is also
The three governments would hold weekly video conferences to
coordinate the search, starting on Monday.
Based on groundbreaking analysis of satellite "pings" sent
from the aircraft before it presumably crashed, searchers
believed they knew the approximate position of wreckage of the
plane some 1,550 km (960 miles) northwest of Perth. The search
was further narrowed on the basis of acoustic signals believed
to have come from the aircraft's black box recorders before
their batteries ran out.
A massive search operation involving satellites, aircraft,
ships and sophisticated underwater equipment capable of scouring
the ocean floor has failed to turn up any trace of the plane.
The United States said in early May that it would only
contribute its sophisticated Bluefin-21 underwater drone for one
more month, placing pressure on Australia, China and Malaysia to
find funding for the next phase of the search.
Officials have said that it could take a year to search the
60,000 sq km (23,000 sq mile) area where the plane is believed
to have crashed, and questions about how to proceed and how to
split the bill are growing.
The search hit a fresh snag on Thursday after it was found
the Bluefin-21 drone at the heart of the operation had been
damaged, forcing what could be another lengthy delay.
The Australian agency coordinating the search effort, now in
its third month, said communications equipment on the
sophisticated drone was damaged on its first day back after
almost two weeks away for maintenance and resupply.
The issue was discovered on Wednesday, the Joint Agency
Coordination Centre (JACC) said, just two hours into the drone's
first mission since returning to the search area in the Indian
Ocean about 1,600 km (1,000 miles) northwest of the west
Australian city of Perth.
"Examination of the communications problem has established
that a hardware defect exists in the transponder mounted on the
Ocean Shield and that a defect may also exist in the transponder
mounted on the Bluefin-21," a JACC statement said, referring to
the Australian naval vessel towing the drone.
"This inhibits the ability of the two devices to communicate
with each other," it said,
Parts to repair the Bluefin will not arrive in Australia
until Sunday and it will take several days to reach the search
area once repairs are completed.
(Editing by Robert Birsel)