MELBOURNE (AFP) - Australia's transport minister Wednesday (Jan 18) defended the suspension of the undersea hunt for MH370, after relatives of passengers slammed the decision, and added that it could resume if "credible new evidence" emerges.
Australia, Malaysia and China - where most of the 239 on board the missing Malaysia Airlines jet came from - on Tuesday pulled the plug on the massive operation in the southern Indian Ocean almost three years since the plane vanished on March 8, 2014 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
Transport Minister Darren Chester said the high cost of the investigation - about A$200 million (S$214 million) was not a factor in the decision, which came after the designated search zone of 120,000 sq km was completed without success.
"I don't rule out a future underwater search by any stretch," Chester told reporters in Melbourne, stressing that the hunt was "not a closed book".
But he added: "We don't want to provide false hope to the families and friends.
"We need to have credible new evidence leading to a specific location before we would be reasonably considering future search efforts."
The minister said analysis of satellite imagery and the drifting of plane debris in the ocean would continue into February while Australia remained open to help Malaysia on future requests including the examination of other aircraft fragments that may be found.
Investigators have so far confirmed that three pieces of debris washed up and recovered on western Indian Ocean shorelines came from MH370.
Other items recovered mostly on western Indian Ocean shorelines have been identified as likely, though not definitely, from MH370.
Chester defended the choice of the search zone, which was called into question after new analysis by Australian and international experts released in December concluded MH370 was not in the area and might be further north.
"We need to understand the very limited amount of actual data our experts were dealing with... it has been the edge of science and technological endeavour in terms of pursuing this search effort," he said.
"In future, whether through better analysis of data, if new technology becomes available or through improved equipment or something of that nature, we may have a breakthrough."
Relatives of passengers on Tuesday criticised the governments' decision, with some saying they were not convinced that their missing loved ones were dead.