May 23, 2018 / 5:52 AM / 7 months ago

Malaysia PM Mahathir says will review MH370 search contract

KUALA LUMPUR, May 23 (Reuters) - Malaysia will review and possibly end its agreement with a private U.S. firm searching for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, newly elected Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said on Wednesday.

Flight MH370, carrying 239 people, disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, 2014, in one of the world’s greatest aviation mysteries.

The previous Malaysian administration had agreed in January to pay Houston-based Ocean Infinity up to $70 million if it found the plane during a search in the southern Indian Ocean that is expected to end in June.

“We want to know the details of this (search), the necessity of this, and if we find it is not necessary, we will not renew,” Mahathir said after chairing his first cabinet meeting since taking office on May 10.

“We are reviewing the contract and we need to terminate it if not useful.”

The announcement came as Mahathir’s administration moved to cut government spending after reviewing the country’s debt levels.

Mahathir, 92, ousted the long-ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, led by ex-premier and former protege Najib Razak, in a stunning election upset on May 9.

Voice 370, a group representing the relatives of those aboard the flight, called on the new government to review all matters related to MH370’s disappearance, including “any possible falsification or elimination of records related to MH370 and its maintenance”.

“We urge the new government to include as part of its agenda in the next 100 days... a further investigation and inquiry into any act or omission across the entire spectrum of operations that may have impaired tracking, search, rescue and recovery,” the group said in a statement.

The decision to engage Ocean Infinity came after Australia, China and Malaysia ended a fruitless A$200 million ($159.38 million) search across a 120,000 square-km (46,332 square miles) area in the Indian Ocean last year, despite investigators calling for the target area to be extended 25,000 square kilometres (9653 square miles) north.

The Seabed Constructor vessel has covered 86,000 square kilometres (33,205 square miles) so far but has yet to identify any significant findings, Ocean Infinity said in its weekly search update on May 15.

Reporting by Rozanna Latiff; Editing by Nick Macfie

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