Malaysia Approves International Investigation into MH370

Malaysia's Cabinet approved on Wednesday the appointment of an international team to investigate the disappearance of missing Malaysia Airlines  Flight MH370, the country's acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said.

"The main purpose of the international investigation team is to evaluate, investigate and determine the actual cause of the accident so similar accidents could be avoided in the future," Hishammuddin told reporters in Kuala Lumpur.

Hishammuddin added that the government has had talks with Malaysian state oil firm Petronas and other unidentified entities to expand the deep-sea search for the missing plane in the southern Indian Ocean.

Meanwhile, the Australian agency coordinating the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 said unidentified material has washed ashore in western Australia and officials are investigating whether it is related to the missing plane.

In a statement, the Joint Agency Coordination Center said officials are "examining photographs of the material to determine whether further physical analysis is required and if there is any relevance to the search of missing flight MH370."

A massive, multinational search has uncovered no confirmed trace of the plane, nearly seven weeks after the Boeing 777 disappeared mysteriously while on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board.

Malaysias Defense Minister and acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein speaks at a news conference in Kuala Lumpur on April 23, 2014. /Reuters Malaysia's Defense Minister and acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein speaks at a news conference in Kuala Lumpur on April 23, 2014. /Reuters

Earlier Wednesday, Australian officials vowed to continue the search, even as a robotic submarine is about to complete the first phase of its, so far, unsuccessful scan of the Indian Ocean seabed.

The Joint Agency Coordination Center said the Bluefin-21 underwater drone has completed more than 80 percent of its first full mission without finding any "contacts of interest."

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Wednesday if the drone fails to locate any debris, authorities will "rethink the search." But he said the hunt will not be abandoned. He said the families of the victims deserve to know what happened.

Defense Minister David Johnston, meanwhile, told the Associated Press that more powerful, commercial sonar equipment could soon be deployed to help explore the 4.5-kilometer deep search area.

The search effort is currently focused on a 10-kilometer radius surrounding the spot where authorities heard a signal they believe came from the locator beacon on the plane's flight data recorder. The batteries on the so-called "black box" recorder have since run out.

On the ocean surface, ships continue to search a wider area for debris. But for the second consecutive day Wednesday, Australian authorities suspended the aerial search because of poor weather conditions.

Malaysian authorities believe someone intentionally diverted the plane. But they refuse to rule out the possibility that the Malaysia Airlines jet experienced a major mechanical malfunction.

Some information for this report provided by Reuters.

VOA News / Apr. 24, 2014 08:11 KST