Australia, Malaysia still to decide costs of search for MH370

SYDNEY (AFP) - Australia and Malaysia were on Tuesday set to discuss the next phase of the search for missing flight MH370, with the cost of the unprecedented mission on the agenda, officials said.

Malaysia's costs have so far been about one-tenth of the US$84 million (S$105 million) Australia expects to spend on the search for the plane, which disappeared while travelling from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing three months ago.

"The government has allocated A$89.9 million (S$105 million). I think about A$25 million of that is to go the defence force for the visual search they conducted," said Mr Angus Houston, head of the search's Joint Agency Coordination Centre.

An additional A$60 million has been allocated to the underwater operation in the southern Indian Ocean where the plane is believed to have crashed in Australia's search and rescue zone. "That money has been allocated but we're still to crunch... or still to negotiate the burden-sharing with for example Malaysia," he added.

Malaysia's Deputy Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Bakri is expected in Canberra later Tuesday for talks with Australian officials.

He told journalists on Monday that the "costs will be shared 50-50 between Malaysia and Australia".

Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein had earlier told parliament that Malaysia had spent RM27.6 million (S$10.8 million) on fuel and food for equipment and personnel in the search.

"The cost that we had to bear is relatively small compared to the other assets given by other countries used in the search," he said.

"I am proud that many of our friends have come forward to help in the search, and they bear their own expenses and have not made any claims from us."

Australia has said it would welcome other nations contributing to the cost of the next phase, an underwater probe of the sea bed over 60,000 sq km where the plane is thought to have crashed.

But Australia's Treasurer Joe Hockey said Canberra would not shirk its responsibility to help find answers to what caused the plane to disappear.

"It is understood that the plane went down in waters that are our responsibility, and there is a cost to having responsibility and we don't shirk that," he told reporters on Tuesday morning.

"We accept responsibility and will pay for it. We're not a country that begs others for money to do our job."

No debris from the Boeing 777 has been found despite a massive air and sea surface search.