Back to drawing board if MH370 search fails, says Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - Malaysia's Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai said on Saturday that his government remains committed to solving the mystery of flight MH370, but added it remained unclear what the next steps would be if the deep-sea search now under way comes up empty.

Liow's comments, made on the eve of the tragedy's anniversary, echoed comments made recently by Australian officials who have raised doubts about an open-ended search for the aircraft, believed by experts to have gone down in the southern Indian Ocean.

"The people of Malaysia remember this date. The world community will remember this date - the 8th of March disappearance of MH370 - and we are together with the next of kin," Liow told AFP in an interview. "I would like to say to the next of kin that we will continue to be committed to the search."

But he said if nothing is found in a zone now being scoured, "then we have to go back to the drawing board" and re-examine all available data used to determine a suspected crash zone".

Sunday's anniversary looms as a painful milestone for relatives of the 239 passengers and crew aboard the plane - which inexplicably diverted from its Kuala Lumpur-Beijing route shortly after takeoff last March 8 - many of whom are deeply unhappy with the lack of progress.

Four ships involved in the Australian-led search are now using sophisticated sonar systems to scour a huge and previously unmapped undersea region.

They are focusing on a 60,000-sq-km priority zone, with the search expected to be completed in May.

More than 40 per cent of the zone has been scanned, with nothing detected on the sea floor aside from a few sunken shipping containers.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Thursday that while committed to the current operation, he "can't promise that the search will go on at this intensity forever".

Many next of kin have been deeply critical of Malaysia's initial response to the crisis, saying that opportunities to intercept or track the plane were lost.

Liow said an international investigative team formed in the weeks after the plane vanished was expected to hand over its findings on the sequence of events leading up to the disappearance sometime this weekend.

He said the government needed to review the report before releasing it and he did not know exactly when it would be publicly available.

'Committed to finding answers'

Liow, who was named transport minister three months after the disappearance, said the government "will take appropriate actions if necessary", based on the report's findings, but declined to speculate on its contents.

But he denied accusations by some family members that Malaysia's government and national airline had not been transparent, saying authorities had regularly shared all that they know.

"We are very transparent in this. I would like to emphasis that," he said.

"I have told the next of kin: they are seeking for answers? I also am seeking for answers. I am committed to look for the answers for them."

Families were again angered by the authorities handling of the disaster when on Jan 30, Malaysia declared all on board to be presumed dead.

The government said the move would allow relatives to seek compensation and otherwise move forward, but next of kin say the declaration cannot be made without proof of a crash.

Malaysia's government has announced no plans to mark the anniversary on Sunday.

Malaysia Airlines will hold a private ceremony for staff and the next of kin of the flight crew at their headquarters.

A separate public event is to be held at a venue in Kuala Lumpur, organised by an association of MH370 families.

Liow said he hoped that MH370's legacy will be safer air travel, noting that the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) has taken up Malaysian calls to increase the tracking of airliners.

Regulators will require real-time tracking of all passenger aircraft beginning next year.

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