MARCH 21 — Malaysia continues to work on the diplomatic, technical and logistical challenges involved in the search for MH370.
We are still awaiting information from the Australian search and rescue operation as to whether the objects shown in the satellite images released by Australia yesterday are indeed related to MH370.
In the meantime, we are continuing search and rescue operations in the rest of the southern and northern corridors. I will now give you a brief operational update.
1. Operational update
Search efforts southwest of Perth continue, and the Australian authorities are intensifying their efforts in the area. HMAS Success is due to reach the vicinity of the objects tomorrow.
China has deployed 5 ships and 3 ship-borne helicopters, which are currently heading toward the southern corridor. 3 Chinese aircraft (2 Ilyushin IL-76s and 1 Shaanxi Y-8) arrived in Malaysia at 11:00 this morning. They will also be searching in the southern corridor.
Japan is deploying its assets to Perth, including 2 P-3 Orions, to assist with the Australian search efforts.
This morning I have spoken with the acting High Commissioner from the United Kingdom, who confirmed that the Prime Minister has spoken to the Prime Minister of the UK, and that HMS Echo is already heading towards the southern Indian Ocean to support the search effort. He also confirmed that the UK will be providing us with a list of possible assets that can be deployed if needed.
He also has reaffirmed that, in addition to the technical support provided so far, it stands ready to provide further specialist search and investigative assistance once more information about the fate of MH370 becomes known.
I have also been in touch with the French delegation, which is led by the French Ambassador to Malaysia, and includes the man who led the investigation into the Air France 447 crash. They have agreed to assist us with their considerable experience and expertise.
I will also be speaking to the US Secretary of Defence at 21:15 tonight, to request further specialist assets to help with the search and rescue efforts, including remotely-operated vehicles for deep ocean salvage.
The Kazakhstan authorities have assured us that they have found no trace of MH370, and we are awaiting permission for Kazakhstan to be used as a staging point for search operations.
On the police investigation, the Ukraine police have confirmed that the background checks on the Ukrainian passenger have come back clear.
2. Satellite data processing
I would like to briefly discuss the processing of the Inmarsat data.
The investigations team received the complete raw Inmarsat satellite data which included the six handshakes at approximately 15:00 on Wednesday 12th March.
This type of data is not normally used in investigations of this sort. It is only because we have so little other information to go on in this difficult and unprecedented situation that the data is being used.
Upon receiving the raw data, the Malaysian authorities immediately discussed with the US team how this information might be used. The US team and the investigations team then sent the data to the US, where further processing was needed before it could be used.
Initial results were received on Thursday 13th March at approximately 13:30, but it was agreed by the US team and the investigations team that further refinement was needed, so the data was again sent back to the US.
The results were received at approximately 14:30 on Friday 14th March, and presented to the investigations team at a high-level meeting at 21:00 on Friday. The UK AAIB, who had also been processing this data independently, presented their results – which concurred with ours and those of the US team – at that meeting.
The Prime Minister was briefed on this satellite information at 08:00 Saturday 15th March, and publicly announced it at the press conference at Saturday lunchtime. Search and rescue operations were immediately shifted to the northern and southern corridor.
3. Family care
Last night in Kuala Lumpur we held a briefing for the relatives of those on board MH370. As I mentioned in yesterday’s statement, the briefing was to update family members on the latest developments, and to answer questions and clear up any confusion.
The meeting was well attended by family members from different nations, including Malaysia, and by representatives from the Chinese Embassy in Kuala Lumpur.
A high-level Malaysian delegation, including representatives from Malaysia Airlines, the Department of Civil Aviation, the Ministry of Transport, the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Security Council also attended the meeting.
We had a very constructive and frank discussion. Although we answered most of the questions they raised, we could not answer them all. These briefings will continue – at the families’ convenience – for as long as the families want them.
The briefing brought the families and the Malaysian authorities closer together, not just in terms of sharing information, but also in terms of listening to the voice of the family members. The Prime Minister’s Special Envoy to China will be co-ordinating the briefings in Kuala Lumpur from now on.
The high-level team I announced yesterday arrived in Beijing last night. Today they met with family members for three and half hours.
4. Concluding remarks
This continues to be a multinational effort co-ordinated by Malaysia and involving dozens of countries from around the world. We continue to receive offers of assistance, including specialist assets that can help with the search and rescue. We welcome all assistance as we continue to follow every credible lead.
* Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein is the defence minister and acting transport minister.
** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malay Mail Online.