PUTRAJAYA - Transport Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai has assured the next-of-kin of those onboard MH370 that the Malaysian Government is committed to finding the missing plane and providing them with answers.
Speaking at a briefing ahead of tomorrow's one-year anniversary of the aircraft's disappearance, he stressed that the search operation would continue and - contrary to reports - not be scaled back.
"The next-of-kin have gone through a painful year so I want to tell them that we are with them and that we will work as hard as possible to find answers for them.
"We understand their feelings. They come to us for answers and I want to tell them that I also want answers," he said here yesterday.
Over the past year, Malaysia had taken various measures to help the next-of-kin, including setting up a support and communications centre in Beijing and six other provinces in China, said Liow,
A special website had also been set up with families provided with passwords to allow them access to the latest information as well as the holding of meetings and briefings for updates.
Liow said he had directed Malaysia Airlines (MAS) to better engage the next-of-kin, citing as example the declaration that MH370 was an accident should have been made known to them before the Jan 29 public announcement.
The minister said he was later told that since MAS could not contact several of the next of-kin, it had sent them text messages, which he felt was not the proper way to address them.
On the refusal by some next-of-kin from China to accept the Jan 29 declaration, Liow said it was done to allow them to proceed with financial arrangements.
"While some families cannot accept the declaration - which we can understand - we have to make sure that things move forward," he said.
Liow said some family members of Chinese national passengers had requested to meet various officials while they were in Malaysia, adding that authorities would continue to engage them.
"They are not happy with some of our answers but these are the answers that we have as we are transparent in our search. So, I hope they understand."
Liow also revealed that on the first day he was appointed Transport Minister, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak had summoned him to his office.
"His (Najib's) first words were 'Datuk Seri Liow, our first task is to help the country to find MH370. Please use whatever contact and resources you have. Go to China and Australia and get international help to resolve this'," he said here yesterday.
Liow said he immediately went to China, Australia and later, the United States, to seek assistance in looking for the plane.
"I attended the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) council meeting and went to the ASEAN Transport Ministers Meeting to convey Malaysia's commitment to the search.
"We also got the world's support to find MH370," he said.
At one time, search teams from 26 countries, including Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Britain, the United States and India were involved.
Asked on his feeling in taking over the role as Malaysia's head of representatives in the search mission mid-way, Liow said it was as painful as the first day of the tragedy.
"I took over the helm on June 27 but I was there on the first day as MCA president to show my concern for the tragedy. It was painful since the first day. It was painful to see that a plane disappeared," he said.
As of yesterday, four ships are searching for MH370 in the Indian Ocean, having covered 26,000sq km of the sea floor or about 44 per cent of the 60,000sq km primary search area.
"We are still confident that we can find the plane within this priority area. We are confident because the experts are confident that the plane is in the Southern Indian Ocean," said Liow.
On the next move should the aircraft not be found, Liow said Malaysia would consult experts before deciding on the way forward.
"However, I am still cautiously optimistic based on the scientific and statistical data, especially the seven electronic 'handshakes' between MH370 and the Inmarsat satellite which are specific and crucial for us. That is why we hope that we will find the plane."
Liow said Malaysia had also proposed for the better tracking of civilian flights, which the International Civil Aviation Organisation was currently considering.
MAS, he added, was testing a new system that tracked the movement of aircraft every 15 minutes, adding that Malaysia was currently working with Australia on this.