SYDNEY May 5 Government officials from
Australia, China and Malaysia pledged on Monday not to give up
searching for a Malaysia Airlines jetliner that
disappeared almost two months ago, despite lingering questions
about how to proceed and who will pay.
No trace of Flight MH370 has been found since it vanished on
a scheduled service from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8,
despite the most intensive search in commercial aviation
A majority of the 239 people on board were Chinese
Experts have narrowed the search area where the plane is
presumed to have crashed to a large arc of the Indian Ocean
about 1,600 km (1,000 miles) northwest of the west Australian
city of Perth.
But after weeks of scouring millions of square kilometres
without finding any sign of debris, Australian authorities have
called off the air and surface search.
A new search phase costing around A$60 million ($55.58
million) will begin after existing visual and sonar search data
is analysed and a contractor is found to lease the sophisticated
equipment needed, the officials said after meeting in Canberra.
Financial responsibility is a major focus of the talks and
Australian Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss seemed to open the
door to Boeing, which produced the 777-200ER jet, and
engine maker Rolls Royce, to contribute financially.
"They also have a vested interested in what happened on
MH370 so they can be confident about the quality of their
product, or take remedial action if there was some part of the
aircraft that contributed to this accident," he told reporters.
"So, I think we will be looking for increasing involvement
from the manufacturers, and their host countries."
Last week, Malaysia released its most comprehensive account
yet of what happened to Flight MH370, detailing the route the
plane probably took as it veered off course and the confusion
The officials have said the new focus will be on 60,000 sq
km (24,000 sq mile) of seabed in the Indian Ocean that could
take eight months or more to search.
U.S. President Barack Obama had publicly promised to commit
more assets, but government sources say the United States is
keen to begin passing on the costs of providing the expensive
sonar equipment the officials say they are trying to source.
The United States said over the weekend 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.
"At the request of the Australian Government, the U.S. Navy
will continue supporting the MH370 sub-surface search effort
with the Bluefin-21 side scan sonar for approximately 4 more
weeks," U.S. Navy Commander William Marks of the 7th Fleet said.
For now the search is on hold as the Ocean Shield, an
Australian naval vessel carrying the drone, resupplies and
conducts maintenance at a military base in Western Australia.
The officials will meet again in Canberra on Wednesday, they
said, where they will begin thrashing out the details of how to
proceed and who precisely will shoulder the costs of doing so.
($1 = 1.0795 Australian Dollars)
(Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)