Three panels set up to streamline multinational search

KUALA LUMPUR - Three ministerial committees have been set up to streamline management of the ongoing multinational search for flight MH370.

They consist of a committee to oversee the next of kin of those on board the plane, another to oversee the formation and appointment of an investigation team into the crisis, and the third to coordinate the deployment of assets for the search and rescue operation.

Deputy Foreign Minister Datuk Hamzah Zainuddin, who leads the next of kin committee, said it would work with Malaysia Airlines and other agencies to furnish the families with information and keep in touch with their governments.

Acting Transport Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein placed emphasis on the next of kin committee to ensure continued close relations with the countries of the victims and their families.

"Cooperation from the missions and countries of the passengers has been of great assistance to us, especially China, which has the most people on board the plane. Close relationship with China is imperative," he said.

Deputy Transport Minister Datuk Abdul Aziz Kaprawi will helm the committee to form the investigation team while Deputy Defence Minister Datuk Abdul Rahim Bakri will head the deployment of assets committee which will work with countries involved in the search operation and the Australian Joint Agency Co-ordination Centre.

"Also, as per the requirements set out by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) in Annex 13 of the International Standards and Recommended Practices, Malaysia will continue to lead the investigation into MH370," Hishammuddin said.

The investigation team will consist of three groups, covering the areas of airworthiness, operations and medical and human factors, which may have caused the disappearance of the Boeing 777-200 on March 8.

An independent "Investigator-in-Charge" will be appointed to lead the team, as required by ICAO. The team will also include accredited countries that are part of the ongoing search and rescue operations.

"Malaysia has already asked Australia to be accredited to the investigation team, and they have accepted. We will also include China, the United States, the United Kingdom and France as accredited representatives," he told a press conference at the Putra World Trade Centre yesterday. Hishammuddin also expects aviation agencies such as Boeing, the US National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration to be a part of the investigation team.

As the mystery of the missing plane enters Day 30, Hishammuddin remained adamant that Malaysia "will never stop looking for MH370".

"I call on all Malaysians to unite, to stand by our armed forces as they work in difficult conditions, with their foreign counterparts, thousands of miles from home, and to support all those working tirelessly in the search for MH370," said Hishammuddin, who had just returned from a meeting of Defence Ministers from the United States and ASEAN in Hawaii.

He said Malaysia and MH370 were the talk of the US-ASEAN Defence Forum, with his foreign counterparts pledging to continue supporting the search and rescue operations.

Reading a joint statement by the ASEAN Defence Ministers, Hishammuddin said Malaysia was commended for doing "its level best in its response to this unprecedented predicament given the sheer scale of the search operation which is the biggest and most complex we have ever seen".

Meanwhile, MAS chief executive officer Ahmad Jauhari Yahya dispelled reports that the airline had failed to replace the battery for the black box pinger of MH370, saying that it was only due to be replaced in June.

Ahmad Jauhari was commenting on a CNN report, quoting the US-based manufacturer of the batteries saying that they were due to be replaced in 2012 but claimed that the company did not receive them.

Dukane Seacom Inc president Anish Patel said the black box now could only last between 20 and 25 days, running on the old batteries rather than 30 days as had been reported.

"We confirm there is a maintenance programme where the batteries are replaced prior to expiry, and we do know that the batteries are due for replacement only in June 2014," Ahmad Jauhari said.

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