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Australia, Malaysia outline next stage of MH370 search

Australia on Tuesday said it had chosen a Dutch firm to help it map the Indian Ocean floor as the search for missing flight MH370 heads deeper under water.

SYDNEY: Australia on Tuesday said it had chosen a Dutch firm to help it map the Indian Ocean floor as the search for missing flight MH370 heads deeper under water.

Netherlands-based Fugro Survey will help a Chinese military vessel survey the ocean bed as part of the next stage of the quest for the Malaysia Airlines plane which vanished three months ago, the Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC), said.

The announcement came after Australian and Malaysian officials met in Canberra to discuss funding and assets for the unprecedented mission, after a huge air and sea search failed to find any sign of the aircraft.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau is now planning to comb a 60,000 square-kilometre (24,000 square-mile) search zone based on the plane's last satellite communication.

"The bathymetric (ocean floor) survey will provide a map of the underwater search zone, charting the contours, depths and composition of the seafloor in water depths up to 6,000 metres," JACC, which was set up to head the search, said.

"The survey will provide crucial information to help plan the deep water search for MH370 which is scheduled to commence in August."

Fugro's state-of-the-art vessel MV Fugro Equator, which is equipped with a deep water multibeam echo sounder system, will work with Chinese PLA-Navy ship Zhu Kezhen on the bathymetric survey of the area.

The two vessels are expected to take about three months to complete the mapping ahead of the underwater search by an as-yet undetermined contractor, JACC said.

Fugro said in a statement that it expected its vessel to start mapping in mid-June.

MH370 went missing on March 8 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing carrying 239 people and is thought to have crashed in the southern Indian Ocean.

Malaysia's costs for the search mission have so far been about one-tenth of the US$84 million Australia expects to spend on the search for the plane.

"The government has allocated A$89.9 million (US$84 million). I think about A$25 million of that is to go the defence force for the visual search they conducted," retired Air Chief Marshall Angus Houston, who is running the search, told the ABC.

The remaining A$60 million has been allocated to the underwater operation in the southern Indian Ocean where the plane is believed to have crashed in Australia's search and rescue zone.

"That money has been allocated but we're still to crunch ... or still to negotiate the burden-sharing with, for example, Malaysia," he added.

Malaysia's Deputy Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Bakri, who will meet with Australian officials, told journalists on Monday that the "costs will be shared 50-50 between Malaysia and Australia".

Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein had earlier told parliament that Malaysia had spent 27.6 million ringgit (US$8.6 million) on fuel and food for equipment and personnel in the search.

"The cost that we had to bear is relatively small compared to the other assets given by other countries used in the search," he said.

"I am proud that many of our friends have come forward to help in the search, and they bear their own expenses and have not made any claims from us."

Australia has said it would welcome other nations contributing to the cost of the underwater probe, but Treasurer Joe Hockey said Canberra would not shirk its responsibility to help find answers to the plane's disappearance.

"We accept responsibility and will pay for it," he told reporters on Tuesday. "We're not a country that begs others for money to do our job."

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