MH370 search could be widened further: Australia PM Abbott

SYDNEY (AFP) - Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Sunday said the search for missing flight MH370 would extend beyond its current scope if it is not found, as grieving relatives marked one year since the passenger jet vanished.

Mr Abbott said the Australian authorities, which are leading the hunt, were about 40 per cent through scouring a priority 60,000 sq km area of the southern Indian Ocean due to conclude in May, but intended to search further "as long as there are reasonable leads".

The Australian PM appeared to diverge from remarks made on Thursday when he said that the search for the missing jet could be scaled back, as the families of passengers who were on board released a statement insisting the hunt should continue.

"We are reasonably optimistic of success, but if we don't succeed in this search, there is another search that we intend to make because we owe it to the families of the dead, we it to the travelling public to do whatever we reasonably can to resolve of this mystery," Mr Abbott told reporters on Sunday.

"We've got 60,000 sq km that is the subject of this search. If that's unsuccessful, there's another 60,000 sq km that we intend to search and, as I said, we are reasonably confident of finding the plane," he said.

Mr Abbott did not give further details about where the proposed new 60,000 sq km probe would take place.

His comments came as Malaysia's Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai told AFP the hunt would go "back to the drawing board" if the ongoing probe is unsuccessful.

The Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 diverted from its Kuala Lumpur-to-Beijing route shortly after take-off on March 8 last year, and there has been no trace of the plane despite a massive surface and underwater search.

Malaysia said it would release a report on Sunday by an international investigative team on the sequence of events leading up to the jet's disappearance.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi Sunday said the search would go on and extended his condolences to the next of kin. A majority of the passengers were Chinese.

"Today will be a tough day for the next of kin of passengers boarding the flight, our hearts are with you," Mr Wang said at a press conference on the sidelines of the National People's Congress, China's Communist-controlled Parliament.

"Malaysia Airlines has already started compensation work, we will support all necessary services for the next of kin and help safeguard your legitimate and lawful requests and interests."