MH370 Search Funds Debate Set for April as No Debris Seen

Government ministers from China, Australia and Malaysia will discuss whether to fund another stage of the hunt for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 at a meeting being planned for April.

The proposed meeting will follow departmental talks among the countries scheduled for March 24-25, a spokesman for Australian Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss said by e-mail Monday. The three countries haven’t held a ministerial-level meeting on the subject since August.

No trace of the plane has been discovered in the 359 days since it disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing last March 8 with 239 people on board. Four ships using deep-sea sonar have scanned about 24,000 square kilometers (9,300 square miles) of the Indian Ocean seabed southwest of Perth, an operation scheduled to finish in May. No decision has been taken on whether to fund a further search if the current one ends unsuccessfully, Truss’s spokesman said earlier by phone.

“We’re still cautiously optimistic that the zone we’re looking at is the best possible lead that we have, based on all the available information,” he said. “We’re covering all the bases if that search still proves not to turn up the plane.”

The current search wasn’t being called off, he said. His comments came after Reuters, citing an interview with Truss, reported earlier today that the three governments were discussing whether to call off the search within weeks.

All Presumed Dead

Current search operations are being funded jointly by the Australian and Malaysian governments. Beijing has provided ships and personnel to assist the hunt, He Jianzhong, China’s Vice Minister for Transport, told a media conference last August.

Australia’s main search contract with Fugro NV, which is providing three of the ships scanning the seafloor, is worth A$39 million ($30 million) and lasts until August 2016, according to a summary of the public tender. Canberra set aside A$54 million for the search in the year ending June 30, according to its most recent budget papers.

On Jan. 29 Malaysia’s civil aviation department declared Flight 370 an accident and said all on board were presumed dead. That declaration was intended to help families obtain assistance including compensation.

All information received to date “supports the conclusion that MH370 ended its flight in the southern Indian Ocean,” Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, director general of the department, said in a statement at the time.

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