KUALA LUMPUR, March 30 — The on-going search for Malaysia Airline flight MH370 is likely to exceed the US$40 million (RM130.9 million) spent to recover the remains of the Air France flight AF447 jet, experts have said.
Scientists from China — whose people make up two-thirds of the 239 people on board the passenger plane missing for 22 days now — speculate that a prolonged search could see the bill hit 10 times higher than that forked out for AF447, the South Morning China Post (SCMP) has reported.
The English-language Hong Kong daily reported France and Brazil had poured out over US$40 million to retrieve the flight recorder from the French plane that crashed en route to Rio de Janeiro from Paris, using sophisticated technology like underwater robots to scour the seabed in search for the wreckage.
Citing a Chinese oceanographer, the broadsheet reported the search for MH370 — now into its fourth week — has been far tougher than that of Air France and could cost more than US$200 million (RM654.5 million) annually to sustain a 26-nation hunt for the Beijing-bound plane whom some suspect may have crashed into the southerly part of the Indian Ocean.
"USD200 million per year is barely enough to maintain the effort," Zhao Chaofang, a scientist at the Ocean University of China in Qingdao, was quoted saying.
International business news agency, Bloomberg, also noted that the inventory of military equipment engaged in the search that began in the South China Sea and has continued deep into the frigid waters fed by the South Pole, has been extensive.
Malaysia has deployed six ships, three helicopters, and two aircraft in the hunt, according to information issued by Australia’s Maritime Authority (AMSA). China has sent 10 ships, three airplanes, and three helicopters. Australia has contributed five ships of its own, including the HMAS Success.
The United Kingdom has dispatched the HMS Echo, a specialised survey vessel, to help search the sea almost 1,600 miles southwest of Perth. India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, and the United Arab Emirates have all sent aircraft to help.
Meanwhile the US, which had set aside a US$4 million (RM13.09 million) for the search, have sent two warships, one state of the art surveillance Poseidon aircraft and Bluefin 21, an underwater surveillance drone capable of operating at depths as low as 14,700 feet to Australia for use in the search.
In yet another report yesterday by Taiwanese news website, Want China Times, the US Pacific Fleet had disclosed its two destroyers and helicopters cost around US$100,000 (RM327,000) per day each to operate while the two patrol aircraft cost around US$77,000 and US$43,000 per day respectively.
According to the Taiwanese report, the US said its federal government would have spent roughly US$4.5 million (RM14.72 million) so far. If the search goes on for a year, the US would be roughly spending whopping RM273.4 million in total.
The Chinese on the other hand have deployed several vessels together with two helicopters and two Il-76 cargo planes which have been searching the area off Western Australia where satellite images show objects suspected to be debris from the Malaysia Airlines (MAS) plane.
Quoting a military expert, the Taiwanese news site said it is hard to estimate the financial costs China has had to bear but noted that the Il-76 costs nearly USD10,000 (RM32,725) for each hour of flight, excluding wait staff help.
That would amount to US$3.36 million (RM10.996 million) after 21 days of search, Want China Times reported. It added that a year would cost US$58.4 million (RM101.08 million).
Liu Jianping, a military expert, was quoted saying the costs involved for vessels engaged in the search include fuel as well as water, food and medicine, salaries and subsidies for personnel.
"The vessels require constant maintenance and incur significant depreciation costs, said the expert, who estimated that a Chinese destroyer costs nearly US$100,000 (RM350,000) a day to operate and even more for the amphibious vessel," Liu reportedly said.
Furthermore, China has mobilised 21 satellites at a rumoured cost of up to CN¥100 million (US$16 million or RM210 million) although a Chinese aerospace expert said the cost of using the satellites could be lower than expected since they do not necessarily have to be repositioned.
Regardless, the total spent by the US and China alone would amount to US$136 million (RM477.8 million) yearly excluding the costs incurred by the remaining 24 nations involved in the search.
The report assumed each nation would spend an average US$68 million (RM222.13 million) that would amount to US$1.7 billion (RM5.95 billion).
Bloomberg pointed out that a full public accounting will likely wait until a definitive outcome, since no one involved wants to appear callous or insensitive.
Meanwhile Acting Transport Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein had previously said that the country had not discussed the matter with other nations.
"Nobody, not the Malaysian government, none of our partners, have talked about dollars and cents. It's all about trying to find the aircraft. It did not even cross our minds," he said.