MH370 search draws blank as Australia brings in ex-military chief

AFP

PERTH: A new search area failed to yield an immediate breakthrough in the hunt for ill-fated Flight MH370 on Sunday, as Australia appointed its former military chief to help coordinate the operation in the Indian Ocean.
Debris spotted by aircraft and then picked up by ships combing the new search zone proved not to be from the Malaysian Airlines’ Boeing 777, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said.
“It appeared to be fishing equipment and just rubbish on the (ocean’s) surface,” an AMSA spokesman told AFP.
As the hunt resumed 1,850 kilometres (1,150 miles) west of Perth, Australia said former defence force chief Angus Houston would head a new unit to help in the search, which involves the militaries of seven nations — Australia, China, Malaysia, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and the United States.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott said that Houston would lead the new Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC) based in Perth, “to coordinate the Australian government’s support for the search into MH370”.
Houston, who was chief of the Australian Defence Force from 2005-2011, has been given a brief to coordinate the often delicate diplomatic contacts between participants in the international effort.
He will also make sure that families receive up-to-date information and travel assistance, including visa services, accommodation advice, interpreter services and counselling.
Describing Houston as “an individual of enormous experience and great skill who has already served his country with distinction,” Abbott said his appointment was part of Australia’s commitment to learning the fate of the flight which disappeared with 239 people on board on March 8.
“This government won’t rest until we’ve done everything we reasonably can to get those families and to get the wider community of the world a little more peace and a little more insight into exactly what happened,” he said.
International protocols mean Malaysia is officially in charge of the search operation, but Abbott made clear that Houston was available “to oversee the overall search and investigation effort” if asked.
“Should our (Australia’s) responsibilities increase as time goes by, there is no one better placed than Angus to coordinate and liaise, given the quite significant number of countries that all have a stake here,” Abbott told reporters.
Authorities continued to pour resources into the operation, which is scouring an area about the size of Norway, dispatching an Australian navy ship with a US-supplied “black box” locator on board.aAMSA said four ships, three of them from China, were already in the search zone and another six were scheduled to arrive later Sunday. 

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