News / Asia

Australian, Malaysian Leaders in Perth as Search for Jet Continues

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, left, walks along the tarmac with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on their way to meet crew members involved in search of wreckage and debris of the missing Malaysia Airlines MH370 in Perth, Australia, Thursday,
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, left, walks along the tarmac with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on their way to meet crew members involved in search of wreckage and debris of the missing Malaysia Airlines MH370 in Perth, Australia, Thursday,
The prime minister of Malaysia, whose government is under criticism for its handling of the investigation into the disappearance of a jetliner on a flight to China, has gone to Australia to speak with the crews involved in the search for the aircraft. Meanwhile, an attack on a Malaysian island resort is likely to further exacerbate the relationship between Beijing and Kuala Lumpur, already under strain due to the airliner mystery.
 
Australia’s prime minister is trying to manage expectations about the likelihood of finding any trace of a missing Malaysia Airlines passenger jet in remote waters in the southern Indian Ocean.
 
PM Tony Abbott spoke alongside his Malaysian counterpart during a visit to an Australian air force base, where multi-national teams are staging a search the Australia’s leader terms “the most difficult in human history.”
 
"We cannot be certain of ultimate success in the search for the MH370. But we can be certain that we will spare no effort, that we will not rest, until we have done everything we humanly can,” said Abbott.  
 
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak told reporters he remains hopeful something will be found. 
 
“As I speak 10 aircrafts and nine ships are searching the Indian Ocean for any sign of the missing plane. The search area is vast and the conditions are not easy. But the new refined area of search has given us new hope,” said Najib.
 
Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared nearly one month ago on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. The plane was carrying 239 people. Most of the passengers were Chinese nationals.
 
Australia has taken the lead for the search by military personnel from seven countries (Australia, Britain, China, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and the United States). Efforts are now focused on waters about 1,600 kilometers off Australia’s northwest coast.
 
Search planes Thursday were flying over a 223,000 square kilometer zone. Two weeks of scouring the southern India Ocean has not yielded any trace of the Boeing 777.
 
The battery of the aircraft’s black box is expected to lose power sometime in the coming days. Without that signal, it will become much more challenging to locate any significant parts of the plane, now believed to have sunk to the ocean floor.
 
An Australian warship, The Ocean Shield, is on the way with an American device that can detect "pings" from the flight recorders.
 
A British nuclear-powered submarine with advanced underwater search capability, HMS Tireless, and a British survey ship, HMS Echo, are also now part of the operation.
 
Meanwhile, there is a new irritant for relations between Beijing and Kuala Lumpur, already strained over the disappearance of flight MH370.
 
Authorities said members of the Abu Sayyaf militant group from the Philippines are the suspects in a raid that occurred late Wednesday at the Singamata Reef Resort, in Sabah state in eastern Malaysia, in which a Chinese national was abducted. 
 
Kidnapped at gunpoint by six men armed with pistols were a 28-year-old female tourist from Shanghai and a 40-year Filipino male receptionist at the dive resort. The gunmen fled in a speedboat.
 
Abu Sayyaf is also suspected of killing a Taiwanese tourist who was kidnapped from a resort in the Semporna area last November.
 
Abu Sayyaf has been linked to al-Qaida, but analysts say a U.S.-assisted military push into Sulu province in the southern part of the Philippines has weakened the group. It is still believed to have several hundred fighters and holding at least a dozen captives.
 
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Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

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