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Joint Agency Coordination Centre

Transcript of Press Conference, 28 August 2014

Warren Truss: Well ladies and gentlemen, can I welcome you here today, and particularly extend a welcome to Dato' Seri Liow, the Transport Minister for Malaysia, and Mr He Jianzhong, the Vice Minister for Transport from China.

We've had a tripartite meeting today to discuss progress in relation to the search for MH370. Earlier in the day, the Minister Liow and I signed a memorandum of understanding between Malaysia and Australia to underpin that search effort. Previously, Malaysia signed a memorandum of understanding also with China. The level of international co-operation that has been associated with this search has been truly outstanding. Australia, with responsibility for the search area, has been glad to welcome the participation of other countries from around the world with ships, aircraft, but also technical expertise. The satellite data, the information that's been gleaned from the various research groups, has meant that we have been able to begin the search area - begin the search in areas of very deep water that had been - had only limited mapping in the past.

There has been an unprecedented level of co-operation between Australia, Malaysia and China and other countries, and we are anxious and committed to ensuring that that level of co-operation continues into the future.

In addition to the valuable assets that Malaysia has provided for the search, Minister Liow has today committed a significant financial contribution also to the search. We acknowledge the effective relationship between our three countries, and the tireless work that has been done by our officials in helping to progress this search. The passengers and the families of MH370 have not left our thoughts, and we will do everything in our power to locate the aircraft, and to help them find closure.

All of the countries involved remain cautiously optimistic that we will find the missing aircraft. Starting next month, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau will lead a deep sea search using an Australian contracted vessel Fugro Discovery and Fugro Equator, as well as the Malaysian-contracted vessel Go Phoenix. The Malaysian vessel will be the first on the site, and will be there in about three weeks' time. Together the vessels will search the floor using towed vehicles, equipped with wide-scan sonar, synthetic aperture sonar, multi-beam echo sounders, video cameras, all deployed to locate this aircraft.

The high resolution search of the priority area on the sea floor is expected to take about 12 months to complete. Together, the vessels will search this area in a systematic way so that we can be sure that the area is thoroughly covered. We hope that the area can be searched as much as possible in the next few months before weather conditions are potentially going to deteriorate. During today's meeting, we discussed the ongoing refinement of the priority search area, and an analysis of the bathymetric data that has been developed to prepare us for the deep sea search.

I have to say that the information that's been gathered in this mapping exercise has been quite remarkable. Whilst there was a view that perhaps this was a relatively uninteresting piece of geography, a long, long way from the shore, we have discovered through this work quite remarkable geographical features, including a couple of volcanoes. In some places, and one place in particular near Broken Ridge, the sea level rises to as little as - the sea depth is as little as 600 metres, and then falls away in just a very short distance to 6,600 metres. So there is very, very deep water in the area.

So this information that's been gathered has resulted the first detailed mapping, is absolutely essential to ensure the safety of the next stage of the search. It would not be safe to put the towed sonar equipment into the water if we didn't have this kind of vital information about the nature of the seabed. It's quite dramatic in some places, and certainly the equipment could be lost if we had not earlier been able to map it and detect where these mountains are, where the trenches are, and where areas can be searched with the confidence that the equipment will not be damaged.

This initial work has identified some areas of specific interest for the next stage of the search, and undoubtedly, as it continues, there will be more done in that area.

Over the last few weeks and months, continuing work is being done on refining the information that we have in relation to the most likely resting place for this aircraft. The search area remains the same, but some of the areas - some of the information we now have suggests to us that areas a little further to the south—within the search area but a little further to the south—may be of particular interest and priority in the search area. This information comes from further refinement of the satellite data. It remains on the seventh arc— that is there is a very, very strong view that the aircraft will be resting on this seventh arc—however, just small alterations to the calculations can have a significant difference - make a significant difference to the areas where the aircraft might have reached. And differences in the temperature of the satellites make a difference.

In addition to that, some work has been done in endeavouring to map the position of the aircraft when a failed satellite telephone conversation was attempted between Malaysia Airlines on the ground and the aircraft, and that has suggested to us that the aircraft may have turned south a little earlier than we had previously expected. But the search area remains the same. We are continuing to map the area. The mapping will continue simultaneously with the deep sea search. Obviously the deep sea search following the areas after they have been mapped.

So we are determined to continue the search. There is a commitment from all of the countries involved to make sure that we do everything we can to locate this aircraft. We will continue the effort and can I, on behalf of Australia, express my appreciation to the Malaysians, the Chinese, and the other countries who have been actively involved in this search. Provision of aircraft, provision of ships, provision of scientific information, which has enabled us to target our efforts into the most likely areas where this aircraft might be located.

Can I invite my colleagues, if they would wish to say a few words, and then we will ask for [indistinct] questions.

Dato' Seri Liow: Thank you Deputy Prime Minister Truss. On behalf of the Malaysian Government and the people of Malaysia, I want to express my sincere gratitude for the leadership role of the Australian Government has played in this complex and challenging exercise; and to the Chinese Government for their ongoing support and resources dedicated to our efforts. The discussion during the tripartite meeting today was productive, and allowed us to discuss the progress in the search for the MH370, and to chart the way forward. Yesterday and today we had very good bilateral meetings between Malaysia and China, and Malaysia and Australia. We had a very fruitful discussion, and I have been heartened by the openness and willingness of this nation, who have provided us with immediate and ongoing assistance.

Today Malaysia signed an MOU with Australia, which provides the framework and broad parameters for co-operation in the search of MH370. This forms an important part of our existing co-operation with Australia, and reaffirms Malaysia's commitment towards the search. In this regard, Malaysia will provide the necessary financial contributions towards the search effort, and match Australia's commitment. The combinations of undersea search equipment, world class experts, and cutting edge technology that is being used will be our best chance of finding MH370, and we are hopeful in our prospects of doing so.

I want to assure the loved ones of the passengers and crew on board MH370 that we are resolute in our efforts to search for this aircraft. I have been encouraged by many of the stories I have heard, and we will do our very best to engage the next of kin and help them to find closure. To that end, we will be providing more regular updates and information related to the search as it becomes available.

Again, today Malaysia pledges continued and unwavering support in response to the unprecedented nature and scale of this event through our financial commitment, technical expertise, equipment, and stamina in our search for answers. Thank you.

Warren Truss: Now, Minister He?

He Jianzhong: [Translated]

Ladies and gentlemen, good morning. I fully agree with what has been said by the two ministers relating to today's consensus reached at the tripartite ministerial meeting. I have been attending the two ministerial—tripartite ministerial meetings, and I think today's meeting is the continuation of last tripartite ministerial meeting. At this meeting we reviewed the search and bathymetric survey information since 5 May and analysed the further plan for deep sea search in the coming days, and we announce the commencement of commercial search in the next phase.

Since last tripartite ministerial meeting on 5 May, according to the consensus reached by the three ministers, the Chinese Government sent two vessels, that is Zhu Kezhen as well as Haixun 01, to the priority search areas under the coordination of JACC together with the Australian Government contracted vessel Fugro Equator. Up to today these three vessels have completed the sounding of more than 60,000 square kilometres of water, which has provided a very solid foundation for the planning for the future deep sea search.

According to the consensus reached by the three countries at this session, the Chinese Government will proactively, as we have been doing so, to further participate in the deep sea search in the coming days. Furthermore, the Chinese side will also send our experts to JACC for participating in their daily work, and after consulting with the other two ministers and with the approval of his honourable, we will continue the weekly telecommunication - weekly teleconference scheme between the search and rescue agencies of the two governments, and so as to exchange timely the information relating to the ongoing search so as to analyse any new situations or data. I am sure with the joint efforts of all the three parties, we will achieve what we've agreed with each other so as to stick to the principles of the searching for MH370 that is not be - the search will not be interrupted, not be stopped and not be given up. Thank you.

Warren Truss: Thank you. Are there any questions?

Question: Minister, you spoke a moment ago about very dramatic undersea geography there. Has that sort of changed your thinking at all about how difficult your search might be, that it would seem that there are deep crevasses or something? Can you sort of talk about what sort of challenge that poses now and what sort of [indistinct]?

Warren Truss: Well, certainly there are parts of the ocean floor which will be difficult to search. In other places, it's more simple. And we needed this information to ensure that the search can actually progress without [indistinct] previously unmapped mountains and the like. So the mapping has been particularly important for the search, but it will have a lasting legacy; a benefit to our understanding of those parts of the ocean.

So it- yes, it will potentially make things a little harder in some places but it actually facilitates the search in the first place. We simply couldn't have undertaken it without having this information available. So there will be some places that are relatively flat and easy going. There will be other places where the seabed is more dramatic.

Question: Mister [indistinct] —oh, sorry.

Warren Truss: Now, we can probably make some photographs available in due course, if you like, and maybe even some videos of the reconstruction of what is in those areas, which will give you a bit of an idea of the sort of things we are looking at.

Question: Mr Truss, you mentioned volcanoes. Are these live volcanoes, or…?

Warren Truss: I don't think so. I don't think so. But there is evidence of them having emitted rocks and the like in the neighbourhood in the past.

Question: Right, and the other thing that you mentioned, the telephone conversation that has given an impression that the aircraft may have turned south. Can you give us a little more detail about that?

Warren Truss: Well, after MH370 disappeared from the radar, Malaysian Airlines ground staff sought to make contact with the aircraft using a satellite phone. Now, that was unsuccessful, but the detailed research that's being done now has been able to identify, or trace, that phone call and help to position the aircraft and the direction it was travelling.

Question: So there was some response from the aircraft automatically?

Warren Truss: I'm not quite sure of the technical details; that is a little bit beyond me. But they have been able, through this examination, to be able to get a better position for the aircraft and the direction that it was travelling.

Question: Minister Liow, how much is Malaysia's contribution to the search?

Dato' Seri Liow: [Indistinct] that Malaysia is committed in the search of MH370. There are two things here in the search of MH370: the commitment of the Government to provide our Government vessel as well as expertise to the search; and the second thing is the financial assistance to ensure that the search can continue for the next phase. So it is important here that we would like to thank Australia for [indistinct] and leading this search and we have so far committed and spent about $15 million Aussie and we are also going to match the Australian in the tender cost for this search for MH370.

Question: Is the cost-sharing arrangements currently between Malaysia and Australia only, or other countries are involved as well?

Dato' Seri Liow: No, it is between Malaysia and Australia.

Question: Has the [inaudible] company arrived? [Indistinct] or not yet?

Warren Truss: Well, one of them has been operating and doing part of this bathymetric work. But there is a new vessel on the way from the UK. I understand it's about - in South Africa at the present time. It will be doing a little bit of service in South Africa before coming to Australia, so that it will be able to spend a year on the search without undergoing any significant maintenance.

Question: Do you have a…

Question: [Speaking in Chinese].

He Jianzhong: [Answers in Chinese].

Question: [Speaking in Chinese].

He Jianzhong: [Answers in Chinese].

Question: Minister Liow, have you determined the cost for the deep water search for the second phase of the search [indistinct]?

Dato' Seri Liow: As we mentioned earlier [indistinct], we have announced the tender. The cost of the tender I think is public knowledge. We are contributing to the cost of the tender. So equal costs provided by the Australian Government.

Warren Truss: The total cost of the new tender is just above AUD $52 million, however, if we find the missing aircraft on the first day, it's not going to cost that much, obviously.


So the actual cost will depend on how long the search lasts.

Question: So how many days, or weeks, is that estimated on, that 52 million?

Warren Truss: That's estimated on doing - searching the entire area, which we - depending on weather and other things, will take a year.

Question: Can I ask Minister Liow if the Malaysian Government is closer to understanding what actually happened aboard the aircraft and why it went so far off course? Can you give us an update as to where that investigation is at?

Dato' Seri Liow: Yeah, in today's tripartite meeting we have been briefed by the investigators, investigating committees. They are actually posting stage one and stage two. They have completed the majority of that investigation part, but the most important thing— investigation cannot continue without the search result. We need to find the plane, we need to find the black box in the plane, so that we can have a conclusion in that investigation.

Question: So you don't think you will ever know what happened aboard the aircraft unless you find the black box?

Dato' Seri Liow: So at the moment, there's no [indistinct] finding of the investigation team.

Question: Are there any leads, though? Are they - have they dismissed any particular possibilities, as a range of possibilities have popped up since the day of the crash, including possibly terrorist hijacking, possible - some action by the pilots or other crew members. Have any of those things been eliminated?

Dato' Seri Liow: I think that we are waiting until the investigation. This consists of [indistinct] team and participated at more than seven international bodies. So there is a very internationalised team going into this investigation [indistinct] team looking into this investigation of MH370. So I think they will look into all angles and all possibility of the accident so we will definitely look into the details and we will wait for the findings of the investigation.

Question: A question to the minister from China. [Speaking in Chinese].

He Jianzhong: [Answers in Chinese].

Question: [Speaking in Chinese].

He Jianzhong: [Answers in Chinese].

Question: Can I ask Minister Liow and perhaps Mr Truss, was there any discussion of - will there be any discussion of MH17 while you're in Australia? Any discussion [indistinct]?

Dato' Seri Liow: Yes, we have good discussions of what happened to MH17 with the [indistinct] team. We had a meeting with Angus Houston yesterday and we would like to thank him and the Australian Government for the support given during this critical period. We thank the Australian Government for supporting us in transferring the bodies from Kharkiv to Amsterdam and also to expedite the investigation to the accident, the MH17. In fact, with MH17 we still need the full access to the accident site so that we can actually have a thorough investigation to the cause of the accident at the crash site.

Question: Minister Liow, aside from constant information for next of kin, are there any other [indistinct]?

Dato' Seri Liow: We have a committee specially set up for NOK that will [indistinct] is leading this committee, and we will continue to engage the NOK as I have promised. And also as Minister He Jianzhong said, we have a structured communication channel with the NOK. We will continue to report to them the latest findings as soon as possible. We make it more regular so that the NOK will be briefed of our effort in this search.

Question: Minister Truss, may I ask on another topic, your thoughts on the Qantas developments today? Any progress on changing the Qantas Sale Act?

Warren Truss: Well, Qantas hasn't asked for further changes to the Sale Act since the legislation went through the Parliament and is now proclaimed. Obviously, their original wish was for that legislation to go further. I thought their results today were - offered some encouragement. The fact that they are projecting to move to a situation where they will be in profit in the first half of next year, that's very encouraging. I think that their determination to reduce costs and also to retire debt and that they have the capacity to retire debt will be encouraging also to their investors. I'm told that, the last report I heard, anyhow, was that the share market has reacted favourably to these figures even though there are obviously some substantial shocks in what they're announcing.

Perhaps the loss, the trading loss, is not as great as the market may have predicted, but their decision to bring to account the changed asset value of their 747s is clearly something that they had to do. These aircraft were bought, as I understand it, at a time when the Australian dollar was 50 cents to the US, and they're actually on Qantas's books at the present time, even though they're 15 years old or more, at a price that's higher than buying new aircraft. So you have got to come to grips with those kinds of accounting figures, and while the numbers are dramatic, the reality is that Qantas is a strong company and seems to be positioning itself for a better future and I'm sure all Australians will be pleased by the reports that Qantas has made about its assessment of its future.

Question: And just on airport security, we've heard the Immigration Minister today say there have been several people detained and questioned. No charges, it appears, as yet. Would that have been different if there were these new terror laws? Is that all that was holding them back from perhaps laying charges?

Warren Truss: Well, I can't answer the question because I don't have details of the particular people concerned and the specific arrangements or reasons for their detention. So that's a question you'd better direct to Minister Morrison. Any other questions?

Question: Is there any follow up [indistinct] between the three [indistinct]?

Warren Truss: Yes, we would anticipate to have further - that we will need to have further meetings, especially if we were to locate the aircraft. We would then need to have some discussions about what kind of recovery arrangements might be put in place. That's quite a complex issue. Quite a complex issue. The tender in relation to the deep sea search included availability of equipment capable of recovering the black box recorders, so that equipment could be brought on to the site quickly and on the basis of the tender that's already been let.

So that would be the critical piece of data that Malaysia's anxious to recover from the perspective of its own investigation and which will provide useful information on the final moments of the flight, so decision would have to be made at that time about whether there was merit in recovering whatever had been discovered, and it's impossible to really speculate about what that decision would be until we know what has been found, where it is, and what sort of condition it's in.

Okay, thank you very much.