The tripartite talks between Malaysia, China and Australia to be hosted in Canberra on Monday will focus on the continued search for missing flight MH370, the division of search costs, and the support being provided for the relatives of the 239 people who vanished with the Malaysia Airlines 777 on 8 March.
In a flash of anger at a press conference in Kuala Lumpur, the acting Malaysia transport Minister and Defence Minister, Hishammuddin Hussein also criticised the distraction, time wasting and additional costs involved in searching the Bay of Bengal to check out the highly dubious claims by a Australian company GeoResonance that sought publicity in the media recently after telling reporters it had found what might be the wreckage of the jet more than 5000 kms from the Indian Ocean search focus offshore from Western Australia.
All of the subsequent stories about the GeoResonance claims carried almost identical wordings about its techniques, services and ability to find sunken submarines and lost nuclear warheads.
The GeoResonance claims in relation to MH370 appear to be without merit, no archived reports have been found as to its recovering missing H-bombs, and the company appears to be retreating from what some sources have described as a shabby stunt of appeal to US television networks and other more gullible sections of the media.
The efforts of the Malaysia minister to field persistent questions about GeoResonance’s claims ate into the more serious business at hand in a brief door stop interview opportunity in KL which included the chief coordinator of the Australian led search, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston (Ret’d).
Houston repeated his conviction based on all the evidence the Malaysia Airlines jet crashed into the Indian Ocean along a 700 kms long arc of possible impact points centred some 1600 kms west to north west of Perth seven hours and 38 minutes after it took off on a scheduled five hours 50 minutes flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
However Houston said the deep ocean search for the wreckage using additional heavy duty towed sonar mapping equipment would take between eight and 12 months from late this month, when contracts and operational arrangements were in place for this next and much more extensive phase of the underwater search.
This will be the real work of the Canberra talks, to maintain the momentum of the sea bed search for MH370 and nail down the contracts, and cost sharing, that will bring in deeper, faster and even more capable deep sea sonar mapping equipment than that available through the use of the autonomous Bluefin-21 device that has of today mapped some 500 square kms of the sea floor covering or adjacent to a location where what sounded like acoustic pingers attached to the jet’s black box flight recorders were briefly detected last month.
Angus Houston said he held hope that by the end of May when the additional capabilities should begin their work on the remaining 60,000 square kms of sea floor where MH370 may lie, the Bluefin-21 search may have come across evidence of the crash.
Hishammuddin Hussein said the GeoResonance claims were a distraction. He said they would be investigated but said “We need to continue to search the Indian Ocean. We need to focus solely on keeping the search momentum.”
He also said the the Canberra conference would also pursue the on going refinement and revision of the data that led to the original identification of the Southern Indian Ocean as the likely end point for the flight of MH370.
“We will follow up the other speculation but we must focus on the main search area” he said, adding that he understood searches in the area by ships of the Bangladesh Navy had so far found nothing relevant to MH370.
Hishammuddin Hussein questioned who would take responsibility for the additional cost and time wasting that might arise from the GeoResonance matters. The Malaysia minister also made a brief incompletely heard reference to resolving or discussing with China the support that was being given to the relatives of those lost with the jet, which was carrying 153 China nationals, and six Australians, and a range of other nationalities as well as Malaysian passengers.
Many of today’s media reports about last night’s release of the preliminary report into the disappearance of MH370 have focused on the time it took for Malaysia authorities to establish that the jet was missing and active search activities.
This is neither new nor particularly notable.
What is both notable and highly controversial in the preliminary report is the disclosure that Malaysia knew from its military radar that the jet had diverted from its intended flight path to cross the Malaysia Peninsula instead of continuing into Vietnam controlled air space while Malaysia authorities continuing to insist on searching in the South China Sea.
Quite why the ABC in particular would ignore these really serious matters and get bogged down in trivialities is in itself a mystery.