KUALA LUMPUR: The search for Flight MH370 will enter a new phase with intensified searches over a larger area of the south Indian Ocean floor following a trilateral meeting in Canberra between Malaysia, China and Australia.
Acting Transport Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein said the trilateral discussions were structured, with all three countries expressing a sense of urgency to continue with the new phase of the search, adding that it was an opportunity for other nations and research institutes to join in the operations.
He was speaking at a joint press conference with Australian Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss and Chinese Transport Minister Yang Chuantang on Monday.
On Malaysia's handling of the search and response to the initial reports of the MH370 investigation so far, Hishammuddin quoting Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said: "there were things Malaysia did right and others Malaysia could do better."
"Its not easy to benchmark whether Malaysia has done right or wrong in its response to MH370. The Panel of Inquiry will go through this and they will decide if the four-hour delay, if you (reporters) were alluding to that was reasonable.
"We have been consistent in our approach. When the panel sits down and see how we have done this search, they will decide if we have done it right or wrong," he said.
Truss said the trilateral meetings would start on Wednesday to analyse the data and information collected from the search thus far, estimating that the new phase of the search could cost up to AUD$60mil (RM182mil).
"A key element of the next stage will involve deep ocean searches and a mix of sonar and capable underwater autonomous vehicles. We are looking at where this equipment may be available.
"Oceanographic mapping will also be looked at as much of the area has never been mapped," Truss said.
He also announced plans to relocate the Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC) from Perth to Canberra to be closer to the Malaysian and Chinese representatives, while the base of operations would still remain in Perth.
To date, there have been 334 search flights and about 4.5 million square kilometres of ocean scoured in the still fruitless search for the Boeing 777, carrying 239 people. All the countries in the search until now have borne their own costs, Truss said.
Yang, representing the Chinese government said the search would not be stopped or slacked, with authorities pledging full cooperation in the new phase of operations.
For the transitional period of the new phase, Yang said the Chinese government would deploy three search vessels and will select a company with sophisticated technological assets to organise a follow up search in the new phase.
Flight MH370 left the KL International Airport at 12.41am on March 8 and disappeared from radar screens about an hour later while over the South China Sea. It was to have arrived in Beijing at 6.30am on the same day.
A multinational search was mounted for the Boeing 777-200 aircraft, first in the South China Sea and then, after it was learnt that the plane had veered off course, in the southern Indian Ocean.
After an analysis of satellite data indicated that the plane's last position was in the middle of the Indian Ocean, west of Perth, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak announced on March 24 that Flight MH370 "ended in the southern Indian Ocean". The search continues from there.
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