KUALA LUMPUR, May 15 – The Malaysian government has approved the transition phase prioritising deep-sea search for the missing Malaysia Airlines (MAS) flight MH370, and suspending the air and surface search. Acting Transport Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein said the approval from the Cabinet was received after he briefed them on the outcome of the Tripartite Ministerial Meeting between Malaysia, Australia and China in Canberra last week. “I had briefed the Malaysian Cabinet yesterday on the outcome of the meeting and it has been deliberated. I now have the mandate to announce that the details of the transition phase have been approved,” he told a news conference, here, Thursday.

He said the transition phase underlined three main priorities. “First, to re-analyse all data to verify a more accurate search area. This analysis will be conducted by the group of experts together with Inmarsat. “Second, to conduct a bathymetric survey involving an extensive mapping of the seabed and third, to conduct the search operation by identifying and deploying the relevant towed and autonomous underwater vehicles required for the terrain,” he added.

Hishammuddin, who is also defence minister, said: “It is important that the bathymetric survey and deep-water search be seamless.” He said the Cabinet meeting also agreed to conduct weekly conferences via video teleconferencing between the representatives of the three nations to discuss the latest developments on the search operation. On the release of Inmarsat raw satellite data, Hishammuddin repeated Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC) chief Angus Houston’s statement that the raw data was not in the hands of MAS or Malaysia, or even Australia.

“So, any information that needs to be verified or disclosed, can only be disclosed by Inmarsat,” he said. Hishammuddin said the Cabinet also agreed to establish a specialised Communications, Coordination and Media Committee to be headed by Communications and Multimedia Deputy Minister Datuk Jailani Johari. The committee will focus on streamlining and strengthening effective communication between the three nations, families of those onboard MH370 and other related stakeholders. “This is to ensure the release of timely and transparent information which is consistent with our effort to improve communications related to this incident,” said Hishammuddin.

Prior to this, Malaysia had set up three ministerial committees, namely the Next-of-Kin Committee, Technical Committee and Deployment of Assets Committee to streamline the ongoing search efforts. Hishammuddin said since the negotiation process about further details of the operation was expected to continue for the next one to two months, Malaysia was placing a special team in Canberra who included representatives from all the committees to represent the country during the period. “This special team will coordinate any aspect related to the search operations between Malaysia and Australia. This team will comprise senior officials from the four respective ministerial committees.”

He said First Admiral Hanafiah Hassan and Colonel Hassan Lokman would represent the Asset Deployment Committee to discuss aspects of the acquisition of assets. “Captain Meor Mohamad Nor Badrishah from the Civil Aviation Department will represent the Technical Committee to discuss data analysis and investigative matters, and Malaysian High Commissioner to Australia Datuk Zainal Abidin Ahmad will represent the Next-of-Kin Committee to discus aspects related to next-of- kin management. “Two officers from the newly established Communications, Coordination and Media Committee will also be placed along with the team for media affairs,” he added.

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