Private contractors are being called in for the next phase of the search for missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370.
Officials from Australia, Malaysia and China met in Canberra today to discuss the next step in the eight-week search.
Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss led a joint press conference this afternoon saying that after 4.6 million square kilometres were searched, the focus is now shifting to the ocean floor and is expected to cost around $60 million.
The Government, which has primary responsibility for the maritime search, is seeking help with the cost from other nations and may also ask the plane and engine manufacturers to chip in.
The Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC), headed by retired Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston will relocate from Perth to Canberra, and is calling for tenders for single operator to supply specialist equipment for search.
Mr Truss said the Australian Navy did not have the search capabilities required and that a single private contractor is the best option, a move supported by both China and Malaysia.
“It’s likely that the majority [of search equipment] will have to be provided from the private sector. We’re looking at calling tenders for a single operator to maintain and lead in the new elements of this search,” Mr Truss said.
The tender process is expected to take one or two months. In the interim, Bluefin-51, which has thus far mapped 400km sq, has been leased from the US Navy for a further month, although its capability is limited by the extreme depth of the ocean floor.
Truss said the search area would be widened to parts of the ocean that have never been mapped before. Chinese transport minister Yang Chuantang said the difficulty of the search would increase with the new phase.
Experts will meet in Canberra on Wednesday to review and analyse the data and information collected so far.
“We obviously have no idea when it’s likely to be found, we just always hope it’s tomorrow,” Truss said.
So far 10 civilian and 19 military aircraft were involved in 334 search flights, spending more than 3100 in the air, while 14 ships were also involved.
Australia and Malaysia are working to finalise an agreement about the search and recovery including financial responsibilities for any contracting of commercial search and recovery capabilities by the parties. A protocol for the families of the victims in the event the flight is found has also been developed.
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