The Malaysian government has withdrawn its offer of a reward to find missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.
The three-year underwater search for the Boeing 777 that disappeared in March 2014 with 239 people on board has officially ended with the search vessel Fugro Equator docking in Fremantle on Monday.
Transport Minister Darren Chester and his Malaysian counterpart Liow Tiong Lai went onboard the Fugro Equator to thank the crew.
“This has been an extraordinary search effort, it’s been in some of the most inhospitable oceans in the world,” Mr Chester said.
“There have been occasions during the underwater search where sea states in excess of 20 metres have been experienced by the crew.
“The search for MH370 has been at the very cutting edge of technology and scientific expertise, but also has been quite a heroic human endeavour.”
Last week the Malaysian Deputy Transport Minister Abdul Aziz Kaprawi said the government was open to credible private companies searching for the plane, and would reward any that found its fuselage.
The size of the reward had not been decided but on Monday, Mr Liow said the statement had been a personal decision of the Deputy Minister.
“The government has not made any decision … it was the Deputy Minister’s personal view, not the government’s, we are not having any of the such decision,” he said.
The search covered an area of 120,000 square kilometres and while some experts believe the plane is likely to be just outside the searched area, the investigation will now take a different turn.
“Work will continue in relation to further analysis of data and if any more debris comes forward, we’ll work with our Malaysian counterparts in assessing debris of interest and work is also going on in terms of further analysis of satellite imagery,” Mr Chester said.
Mr Liow thanked the crew, the Australian and Chinese governments for the help in the $200 million search effort, of which Australia contributed about $60 million.
“It is one of the biggest search missions launched ever in the aviation history of the world,” Mr Liow said.
“We are very sad that we still couldn’t locate the aircraft and we need to suspend the search for the time being to look for more credible evidence before we launch any more further search effort.
“We will analyse the data, whatever data we have now and from there we will look for more credible clues and credible evidence for us to study the situations in the future.”
Investigators have retrieved 25 pieces of debris, some of which are confirmed as being from the missing plane.
Mr Liow said his government would continue to work with countries along southern Africa and the surrounding islands to retrieve more debris and then analyse ocean drift patterns.
Mr Chester said he had spoken with some of the families of the missing passengers last week.
“It is impossible for any of us to fully comprehend their grief and their suffering for over three years they have many unanswered questions and we haven’t been able to provide them [answers] at this stage,” he said.
“They have been deeply appreciative of the search effort, but understandably they’re disappointed and saddened by the fact we haven’t been able to find MH370.
“Just as I must acknowledge the professional staff from the ATSB, the crew on board the Fugro Equator here today … they’re disappointed we haven’t been able to locate MH370 and its a disappointment I share with them.”
The two ministers met families of the missing passengers on Monday.
Sheryl Keen, chairperson of Air Crash Support Group Australia, presented Minister Liow with 100 letters from the families.
“We talked about where the search is at the moment, the hope for the future that answers will come,” she said.
“He was very keen to assure everyone that whilst the completion of the underwater search means that for now they won’t be looking anywhere in those areas, it doesn’t mean the end of the investigation.”
On Sunday, the group handed over artefacts and personal effects that were found in Madagascar in June.
“We hope that they go back to Malaysia and be thoroughly investigated and potentially yield some clues,” Ms Keen said.
“We’re not giving up, we’ll just keep asking. We don’t mind being told no, it won’t discourage us from asking the same question again and again and eventually we’ll get an answer.”