SINGAPORE: Singapore has come to Malaysia’s defence after scathing criticism of Kuala Lumpur’s handling of the disappearance of a passenger plane with 239 people on board.
Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam also said Malaysia’s South-East Asian neighbours did what they could to help in the early days of searching for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, but most of them lack the necessary resources for large scale assistance.
“I think some of the criticisms are unfair,” Shanmugam told the Foreign Correspondents Association here yesterday.
“I don’t think enough account has been taken of the fact that there was very little to go on, very little that the Malaysians or anyone knew about the matter,” he said, describing the plane’s disappearance as a “most unusual, bizarre situation”.
Flight MH370, carrying mostly Chinese nationals, vanished from civilian radar on March 8 while on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
A massive international search is currently focused on the southern Indian Ocean, where the aircraft is thought to have crashed after mysteriously veering off course.
Malaysia has come under relentless criticism for alleged incompetence and been accused of a cover-up, especially by families of the Chinese passengers, as well as from China’s media.
The Chinese government has also urged more transparency in the investigation.
In the early days of their daily press briefings after the plane went missing, Malaysian officials made a series of contradictory statements that added to the confusion.
Notably, there have been about-turns regarding the crucial sequence of events in the plane’s cockpit before it veered off course, and Malaysia’s armed forces have been criticised for failing to intercept the diverted plane when it appeared on military radar.
Shanmugam said Malaysia’s South-East Asian neighbours responded well to the situation, but lacked the assets that the United States, China and other countries had.
“I think there was certainly no lack of will in terms of wanting to cooperate,” he said.
“But in order to do something like this we also need the assets and the resources.”
Most South-East Asian countries are at a stage in their development where their budgets go to healthcare, education and social services, he added.
“The amount of money you would set aside for training a large corps of disaster relief personnel in the overall scheme of things is there, but not in the level of say Japan and China or the United Sttates,” he said.
Meanwhile Australian authorities searching for the plane denied their fruitless scouring of the southern Indian Ocean had been a waste of time, as they shifted to a new search area.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority has been coordinating an international hunt for the missing Boeing 777 in hostile waters some 2,500km southwest of Perth for 11 days.
But no debris has been found and new analysis of radar and satellite data identified an area nearer to land and further north as the likely crash site.
“That is now our best place to go,” AMSA chief John Young told reporters in Canberra yesterday when announcing the new search zone 1,100km northeast of the previous area.
Young said that switching the search area was a normal part of
such an operation and did not devalue the sorties already flown by military and commercial planes and journeys made by vessels so far.
“That’s actually nothing unusual for search and rescue operations, this actually happens to us all the time,” Young said of the new twist in the search for the plane which went missing on March 8 with 239 people onboard.
“This is the normal business of search and rescue operations, that new information comes to light, refined analysis take you to a different place. I don’t count the original work a waste of time.”
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau chief Martin Dolan said the new search zone was based on analysis of radar data about the aircraft’s movement between the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca before radar contact was lost.
Dolan said the international team’s continuing analysis could result in further refinement of the search area.
But he said the new area was the “most credible lead we currently have in the search for aircraft wreckage”.
“This is our best estimate of the area in which the aircraft is likely to have crashed into the ocean,” he said.
“Let me stress that under international convention, Malaysia has investigative responsibly for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370. At this stage, the ATSB’s main task is to assist in the search for the aircraft,” he said.
The new search area is closer to land and not in the belt of winds known as the Roaring Forties, which whips up mountainous seas and difficult conditions. As a result, planes will now be able to spend more time in the search area during their sorties.
“I’m not sure we’ll get perfect weather out there...but it’s likely to be better more often than we’ve seen in the past,” said Young.
Young said the depth of the water in the new search area was between 2,000m and 4,000m and the Australian vessel HMAS Success would arrive there late today. — AFP