Sun, Jun 15, 2014 - Page 4 News List

Australia tight-lipped on MH370 jet search funding

AP, CANBERRA

Malaysian Deputy Minister of Communication and Multimedia Jailani Johari speaks during a media conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Monday last week.

Photo: EPA

While a Malaysian official said he expects his country is to equally share future costs for the increasingly massive search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 jetliner, Canberra remains reticent about the issue.

Malaysian and Australian officials discussed cost-sharing this week in the Australian capital, but Australian Deputy Prime Minister and Transport Minister Warren Truss declined to say on Friday whether the country was even considering an even split of the bill for a search that is expected to take months, if not years, and cost at least tens of millions of dollars.

“I don’t want to give any indication as to where it’s likely to end up,” Truss told reporters. “We are talking about this with the Malaysians and other countries who have got a key interest.”

The Australian government expects to spend A$90 million (US$84 million) on the search by July next year, but the actual cost to the nation is to depend on how quickly the plane can be found and how much other countries are willing to contribute.

A legal expert said Australia’s obligations are murky because of the unprecedented nature of the plane’s disappearance.

Flight 370 veered off course during a trip from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8 and is believed to have crashed into the Indian Ocean far off the west Australian coast. The search area has changed several times, but no sign of the aircraft, or the 239 people aboard, has been found.

Countries are continuing to negotiate on how to fund the next phase of the sonar search of almost 56,000km2 of seabed beneath water up to 7km deep.

Countries involved in the search, including Malaysia, Australia, the US, China, Japan, Britain, South Korea and New Zealand, have carried their own costs to date.

However, Malaysian Deputy Minister of Communication and Multimedia Jailani Johari told reporters in Kuala Lumpur last week that future costs are to “be shared 50-50” between Malaysia and Australia.

The job is much more difficult than another complex and challenging search to which it is often compared: the hunt for Air France Flight 447. Though debris from that aircraft was found within days, it took two years to recover the black boxes from the plane, which crashed off the coast of Brazil in 2009, killing 228 people.

The French government, the airline and aircraft manufacturer Airbus paid for the vast majority of the underwater search and recovery efforts. Brazil, like Australia, had search-and-rescue responsibility for the crash site under the UN Convention on International Civil Aviation, also known as the Chicago Convention, but its costs were relatively limited.

Truss declined to say whether the Flight 447 precedent featured in the current funding negotiations, and said that the question of who should pay for what under the Chicago Convention was “quite complex.”

“We’ve indicated our willingness to be a part of the funding arrangements ... and we’re just talking about those things,” Truss said.

Australian National University international law expert Don Rothwell said the Chicago Convention is not clear on Australia’s financial responsibility for the search, which the nation is coordinating.

He said Malaysia had responsibilities as the country where the state-owned airline is registered, while Australia had responsibilities toward aircraft in its airspace and search-and-rescue zone.

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