Australia PM suggests MH370 search could be scaled back

Australia PM suggests MH370 search could be scaled back

SYDNEY - Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott Thursday suggested the search for missing Flight MH370 may be scaled back, while expressing hope the jet would be found a year after it vanished.

The Malaysia Airlines plane disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, 2014 with 239 people on board. No trace has been found despite a massive surface and underwater hunt.

"I do reassure the families of our hope and expectation that the ongoing search will succeed," Abbott told parliament in Canberra.

"I can't promise that the search will go on at this intensity forever but we will continue our very best efforts to resolve this mystery and provide some answers."

Australia is leading the hunt in the Indian Ocean some 1,600 kilometres (1,000 miles) off its west coast, with four ships using sophisticated sonar systems to scour a huge underwater area.

The vessels are focusing on a 60,000 square kilometre (23,000 square mile) priority zone, with the hunt scheduled to end in May. More than 26,000 square kilometres, or 40 per cent, of the ocean floor has been explored to date.

The intensive search -- jointly funded by Australia and Malaysia with a budget of Aus$120 million (US$93 million) -- has so far only turned up a few shipping containers.

The ships, Fugro Supporter, Fugro Equator, Fugro Discovery and GO Phoenix, are working in one of the world's most isolated locations in treacherous conditions similar to the "Roaring Forties" north of Antarctica -- notorious among mariners for its hostile seas.

Weather conditions in the remote region are expected to worsen after May.

The agency coordinating the search, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, has previously said a decision on continuing after the current hunt was completed was up to the Australian and Malaysian governments.

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