PETALING JAYA - Malaysia will likely take charge of the official probe into what happened to MH370 if it is confirmed that the aircraft went down in international waters following the discovery of possible debris 2,500km south-west of Perth.
Australia on the other hand will be responsible for the official accident inquiry if the accident took place within its territorial waters.
The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) which is part of the United Nations said the location of the accident will determine which country has jurisdiction in accordance with the Convention on International Civil Aviation.
"With respect to territorial investigation responsibility at sea, territorial waters determination would ultimately decide which State would lead the accident investigation," ICAO chief of communications Anthony Philbin told The Star.
Philbin said Annex 13 of the Convention on International Civil Aviation states that the state of aircraft registry - which in the case of MH370 is Malaysia - would be responsible for instituting and conducting the investigation should the accident have taken place over international waters.
"States nearest to the scene of an accident in international waters shall provide such assistance as they are able and shall, likewise, respond to requests by the state of registry," said Philbin.
If an aircraft accident involving death, serious injury, or serious technical defects in the aircraft or air navigation facilities takes place over the land or sea territory of a country other than Malaysia, the state in which the accident occurred will then institute the inquiry into the circumstances of the accident.
In such a scenario, Malaysia will be given the opportunity to appoint an accredited representative and advisors to be present during the investigation.
The investigating State will also be expected to communicate any findings or reports to Malaysia.
Philbin said Malaysian officials have been in contact with ICAO over the incident since the day the aircraft was discovered missing.
"From a more formal standpoint I can further confirm to you that this issue (of jurisdiction) was raised in an ICAO council session on Monday March 10, and that Malaysia's representative provided a briefing at the session."
Philbin said with the facts relating to the missing MH370 still being investigated, the ICAO will review any applicable international standards for civil aviation and amend them on the basis of global State and sectorial consensus.
According to the Australian government agency Geoscience Australia's website, the country's sovereignty extends to its territorial sea which stretches 12 nautical miles measured from the territorial sea baseline.