Malaysia Airlines begins pay-outs

Chinese relatives at a prayer service in Beijing in April. Picture: Getty
Chinese relatives at a prayer service in Beijing in April. Picture: Getty
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MALAYSIA Airlines has begun giving out $50,000 (£31,000) in advance insurance payments to families of people aboard missing Flight 370, but many Chinese relatives have indicated they’ll reject it.

The aircraft is thought to have crashed in the Indian Ocean on 8 March with 239 people aboard, but a search has found no trace. There were 153 Chinese passengers on board.

Malaysian deputy foreign minister Hamzah Zainuddin said six Malaysian and one Chinese family had so far received payment.

He said a full pay-out would come after the plane is found or officially declared lost.

However, Steve Wang, a spokesman for some of the relatives, said yesterday that families of 127 Chinese passengers indicated that they will reject the advance payment, partly bec­ause they think Malaysia Airlines should provide economic assistance while the search continues.

Malaysia and Australia are discussing how they should split the bill for the search operation, which could continue for years.

The two nations discussed cost-sharing this week in Canberra, but Australian transport minister Warren Truss declined to say yesterday whether his country was even considering dividing the cost equally.

He said: “I don’t want to give any indication as to where it’s likely to end up.

“We are talking about this with the Malaysians and other countries who have got a key interest.”

The government expects to spend $90 million (£53 million) on the search by July 2015.

But the actual cost to Australia will depend on how quickly the plane can be found and how much other countries are willing to contribute.

A legal specialist said that Australia’s obligations were murky because of the unprecedented nature of the plane’s disappearance.

Flight 370 veered off course during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing and is believed to have crashed into the Indian Ocean far off the west Australian coast.

The search area has changed several times.

Countries are continuing to negotiate on how to fund the next phase of the sonar search of almost 21,600 square miles of seabed beneath water up to 4.3 miles deep.

Countries involved in the search, including Malaysia, Australia, the United States, China, Japan, Britain, South Korea and New Zealand, have carried their own costs to date.

But Malaysian government spokesman Jailani Johari, chairman of Malaysia’s Liaison, Communication and Media Committee, said that future costs “will be shared 50-50” between Malaysia and Australia.

The job is much more difficult than another complex and challenging search it is often compared to – the hunt for Air France Flight 447 in the South Atlantic.

Though debris from that aircraft was found within days, it took two years to recover the black boxes from the plane, which crashed off the coast of Brazil in 2009, killing 228 people.

The French government, the airline and aircraft manufacturer Airbus paid for the vast majority of the underwater search and recovery efforts.

Brazil, like Australia, had search and rescue responsibility for the crash site under the UN Convention on International Civil Aviation, also known as the Chicago Convention. But its costs were relatively limited.