Australia has accepted a request from Malaysia to take
charge of the "southern vector" of the search for a Malaysia
Airlines jetliner missing for more than a week with 239 people
on board, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said today.
Abbott said he had offered additional surveillance resources
to bolster the two Australian Orion aircraft already
searching for the plane during a recent phone call with Prime
Minister Najib Razak.
"He asked that Australia take responsibility for the search
in the southern vector, which the Malaysian authorities now
think was one possible flight path for this ill-fated
aircraft," Abbott told lawmakers in parliament.
"I agreed that we would do so."
The search for flight MH370 is focusing on a wide strip of
territory either side of two arcs formed by satellite plots
of the aircraft's last known possible position.
The southern Indian Ocean is one of the most remote places in
the world and also one of the deepest, posing potentially
enormous challenges for the international search effort.
The northern vector of the search stretches through Thailand
and China and bends towards India, Pakistan and then Central
Asia, over some of the world's most strongly guarded
Abbott said Australian Defence Force chief David Hurley was
in discussion with his Malaysian counterparts about how best
to deploy the additional resources, without providing further
details, in the search for the Boeing 777-200ER.
On Sunday, Australia shifted one of its two Orion aircraft
searching for the missing plane further south in the Indian
Ocean, at Malaysia's request. The aircraft is now searching
the ocean to the north and west of the remote Cocos Islands.
The second Orion is continuing to search west of Malaysia.
Australia has a military over-the-horizon radar (OTHR)
network, which allows it to observe all air and sea activity
north and northwest of Australia for up to 3000km.
However, the Jindalee Operational Radar Network (JORN), which
has radar capability extending into the Indian Ocean, does
not operate on a 24-hour basis, according to Royal Australian
Air Force (RAAF) documents.
JORN is used primarily to provide defence surveillance of
Australia's northern approaches but does not continually
"sweep" an area like conventional radars. Instead, it
"dwells" on a selected area.
Australia's Defence Department did not reply to repeated
requests for information on JORN, including details on its
operations and whether the network had detected Flight MH370.
Australia's civil aviation radar extends a maximum of just
200 nautical miles (410km) off the coast, a civil aviation
authority source said, and is used only for monitoring
scheduled aircraft on approach into the country and
Asked before his parliamentary statement whether any
Australian agencies had found information to suggest the
plane might have come close to Australia, 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."