National News

Countries undecided who will pay for airliner hunt

By Rod McGuirk, The Associated Press

CANBERRA, Australia - Countries searching for the missing Malaysian plane have yet to agree on how to share costs, an Australian search leader said Tuesday.

Malaysian officials were in the Australian capital Canberra to discuss the next phase of the seabed search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 that is thought to have crashed in the southern Indian Ocean on March 8 with 239 people on board.

Malaysia is in charge of the search because the Boeing 777 is registered in that country. But Australia is co-ordinating the search because it is the closest country to where the plane is thought to have crashed. Most of the passengers were Chinese and their government is active in the search.

"We're still to negotiate the burden-sharing with, for example, Malaysia," Australia's Joint Agency Coordination Center head Angus Houston told Australian Broadcasting Corp. television.

A seabed search of the most likely crash site, using an unmanned remote controlled submarine, ended last month without finding any trace of the plane.

Australia is contracting private operators to embark on a much larger search using powerful sonar equipment. The new search is expected to begin in August and take more than eight months.

The Australian government expects to spend 90 million Australian dollars ($84 million) on the search by July 2015. But the actual cost to Australia will depend on how quickly the wreckage can be found and how much other countries contribute.

Treasurer Joe Hockey said his government would not shirk its financial responsibility to conduct the search in Australia's search and rescue zone.

"It is understood that the plane went down in waters that are our responsibility," Hockey told reporters in Sydney. "And there is a cost to having responsibility. And we don't shirk that. We accept our responsibility and we'll pay for it."

A Chinese survey ship has been mapping the ocean floor in the search area, and the Joint Agency Coordination Center said on Tuesday that it had signed a contract with a Dutch company that will provide another vessel to assist with the mapping effort. It will take the ships around three months to complete the underwater survey, the agency said.

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Associated Press writer Kristen Gelineau contributed to this report from Sydney.

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