KUALA LUMPUR, May 15 – Several local companies, including Petronas, have offered assets to assist in the deep-water search operation for the next phase of the hunt for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370. Deputy Defence Minister Datuk Abdul Rahim Bakri said Petronas, for example, had offered a towed deep-water sonar and a remote-operated vehicle. Sapura-Kenchana has offered the use of its multibeam echosounder.

“But a decision has yet to be made on all the assets,” Abdul Rahim told a press briefing on developments surrounding the search for MH370, here, Thursday which was presided by acting Transport Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein. On May 5, a tripartite meeting in Canberra, involving Malaysia, Australia and China agreed that specific assets, including commercial assets, would be deployed for the next phase of the search operation in the southern Indian Ocean.

Meanwhile, Hishammuddin, who is also defence minister, explained that the assets offered by the local companies would complement the commercial assets to be procured by Australia. Besides Petronas and Sapura Kencana, he said, the Malaysian government was currently in discussion with DRB-HICOM Defence Technologies Sdn Bhd (Deftech) and Boustead Holdings Bhd for asset acquisitions.

Prior to the deployment of the assets, he said a comprehensive bathymetric survey would be undertaken to enable the experts to better understand the seabed terrain involved. He also said that the AU$90 million allocated by the Australian government in continuing the search mission for MH370 was an estimated ceiling sum and did not reflect the actual cost of the operation. He said the allocation was also part of that country’s legal requirement. However, Hishammuddin said, the amount to be borne by the Malaysian government had not been determined yet as it would depend on the search location and assets required from the military or commercial entities.

“I confirm that third parties are willing to assist in the search operation if the costs are more than we can afford. “We will continue the search with what we have. We hope for third party cooperation which we have seen in phase one and two of the search, to be with us in the new phase,” said Hishammuddin, who declined to name the third parties. Yesterday, the Australian media reported that the Australian government had allocated AU$89.9 million for a period of two years as part of its contribution in the international search effort for MH370.

Hishammuddin, meanwhile, said the first ping signal detected in the search for the ill-fated airliner in the southern Indian ocean had been the best indicator so far. “The first ping signal was the strongest at the time. But in the new phase, it is important for the experts in Canberra to identify together with Inmarsat and other experts the actual location of the missing aircraft so that the assets available can be mobilised. “If more assets are gathered, the asset mobilisation will be faster. This is being arranged now,” he said.

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