Malaysia’s MH370 search under the spotlight after investigation delays

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Remarkable coincidence that investigators have only now collected potential debris from Madagascar, say families who started own hunt for missing plane

Questions have been asked about Malaysias commitment to the search for missing flight MH370, after the countrys civil aviation head insisted that delays in collecting potential debris were justified, and Malaysia Airlines took steps to block a bid for compensation by families of those on board the plane.

Relatives of the passengers have remarked on the fact that the shift in Malaysias investigation has coincided with their trip to Madagascar to hunt for debris themselves.

What happened to MH370?

Datuk Seri Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, the director-general of Malaysias department of civil aviation, has insisted it was a coincidence that its investigator arrived in Madagascar days after family members did.

Six possible pieces of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight had been languishing in storage in Madagascar since Blaine Gibson, the US independent investigator, handed them over to local authorities in June.

Though Malaysia was notified of their existence at the time, they were only collected on Tuesday.

Aslam Khan, one of the Malaysian MH370 investigators in Antananarivo, told the Guardian that criticism of the authorities for failing to collect the debris in the six months since it had been found was fair comment.

But my answer is that we are here now to collect the debris which are with the Madagascan authorities for examination. Once we have had a physical examination of it we will be in a position to say more.

Madagascan authorities have suggested the two countries work together to conduct a concerted search of its 3,700km (2,300 miles) of coastline and run a public information campaign to encourage locals to hand in any debris they find.

Khan said the investigation would go on until such time as we find some answers.

He added: Its been difficult because we havent found wreckage.

It was too soon to say whether the debris washed up in Africa could provide clues as to what happened to the plane, Khan said: We have got to examine it first. Its not necessarily right to say it could represent credible new evidence. We need to examine it first to determine its value.

Gibson and some family members of victims have criticised the apparent lack of urgency of the Malaysian investigation, and shared their concerns with Khan when they met with him late on Monday night.

K S Narendran, whose wife was a passenger onboard MH370, wrote on Facebook on Wednesday that it was a remarkable coincidence that Khan arrived in Madagascar at the same time as the families.

But Azharuddin, the director-general of Malaysias department of civil aviation, told the Malay Mail that there was no connection between the timing of the two.

Its not that we dont want to take the debris. Its far away, time-consuming and costly to do so. We also have to get visas done and engage with the authorities beforehand.

On Wednesday, the families split into three teams to scour beaches for possible debris. Jiang Hui, whose mother was onboard MH370, made the first find potentially from the planes galley on Riake beach on Isle Sainte Marie later that day.

Gibson and Khan joined him in inspecting it. Grace Nathan, a spokeswoman for the families initiative, said it was an emotional moment for all of us.

She said on Thursday the families would travel to the outer islands of Madagascar by boat to continue the search there.

In a separate development, relatives of Australian passengers Rod and Mary Burrows and Bob and Cathy Lawton, have suffered in a blow in their case for compensation from Malaysia Airlines.

The airline has applied to strike out an order to hand over internal documents to lawyers acting on behalf of the families on the grounds that they are not relevant to any issues arising on the pleadings.

It will reportedly fight the notice to produce in court in Sydney on Friday.The Guardian has contacted John Dawson of Carney Lawyers for comment.

Meanwhile, the underwater search for the missing plane, which is being carried out by Australian authorities, is now down to one vessel after a Chinese boat returned to Beijing.

The Dong Hai Jiu 101 concluded its underwater work on Saturday and made its way to Fremantle to drop off equipment before returning to China, leaving only the Dutch Fugro Equator search ship, which paused operations on Tuesday for a resupply.

The final stages of the 120,000 square kilometre search in the southern Indian Ocean is expected to take until January or February to complete.

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