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Australia will take responsibility for the “southern vector” of the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, with 25 countries now involved in a huge operation to locate the plane, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Monday.
The Malaysian government has revealed an investigation indicates the jet was deliberately diverted and flew for several hours after leaving its scheduled flight path - either north towards Central Asia, or towards the southern Indian Ocean.
Abbott, who earlier on Monday told journalists he had no information that the flight may have come close to Australia, said he was responding to a request from Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.
“He asked that Australia take responsibility for the search on the southern vector, which the Malaysian authorities now think was one possible flight path for this ill-fated aircraft,” Abbott told parliament.
“I agreed that we would do so. I offered the Malaysian prime minister additional maritime surveillance resources which he gratefully accepted.”
Abbott said the defence chiefs of Australia and Malaysia were discussing how to implement the arrangement.
“Australia will do its duty in this matter. It will do our duty to ensure that our search and rescue responsibilities are maintained and upheld,” he said.
“And we will do our duty to the families of the people on that aircraft who are still absolutely devastated by their absence and who are still profoundly, profoundly saddened by this as yet unfathomed mystery.”
Asked earlier whether Australian agencies had detected the plane close to Australia, given its western coast borders the Indian Ocean, Abbott said: “I don't have any information to that effect.
“But all of our agencies that could possibly help in this area are scouring their data to see if there's anything that they can add to the understanding of this mystery,” he told reporters.
Australia has two Orion surveillance aircraft assisting with the search for the plane, which was en route to Beijing when it disappeared. Abbott said one of those had now been redeployed to the Indian Ocean.
Six Australians were on board the commercial flight carrying 239 passengers and crew which vanished on March 8 in a busy Southeast Asian sky, and relatives have clung to hope that their loved ones may still be alive.
“I haven't got a clue what is going on, but maybe they have been hijacked and that gives me hope,” David Lawton, whose brother Bob was aboard MH370, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Monday.
“In this day and age and the technology we have you would think they would be able to find it, but no, apparently they can't.
“I don't blame anybody for it, I just want to know what their fate was,” he added.
Abbott said the incident could lead to changes in how aircraft are tracked.
“I think that there will be a lot of analysis done of this particular event which thus far remains deeply, deeply mysterious,” he said.
“And I think there will be a lot of lessons learnt, and I dare say some of those lessons will involve the tracking of aircraft.” - Sapa-AFP