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[KUALA LUMPUR] Malaysia on Thursday insisted it was committed to completing the hunt for missing flight MH370 despite not renewing its contract with one of three search vessels scanning the Indian Ocean seabed.
The Australian-led operation had said previously that Malaysia would not renew its contract with the high-tech ship GO Phoenix once the search goes into hiatus in coming weeks due to the onset of the southern hemisphere winter, and it would exit the search.
That has spurred speculation online that Malaysia's commitment to the frustrating effort was flagging.
But Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai said on Thursday his government remained committed to finish scouring an additional 60,000 square kilometres (23,000 square miles) added to the search parameters in April.
"To reiterate, Malaysia remains committed to continuing the search for the additional 60,000 square kilometres," he said in a statement emailed to media.
The statement, however, did not say why the GO Phoenix contract was not being renewed.
But it said Malaysia had committed more than US$46 million to search and recovery efforts, "which clearly demonstrates our commitment to finding MH370."
In April, more than a year after the plane vanished en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board, Malaysia, Australia and China announced that the search zone would double in size to 120,000 square kilometres.
They said at the time that the widened search could take another year due to the difficult conditions.
But earlier this month search authorities said the hunt would not be further expanded beyond that without specific new leads.
The aircraft disappeared on March 8 last year.
No part of the wreckage has ever been found in one of aviation's great mysteries and Malaysian authorities in January declared that all on board were presumed dead.
But many next of kin have rejected that verdict, criticising Malaysia's handling of the situation and questioning the focus on the southern Indian Ocean, which was arrived at via an analysis of satellite data indicating the plane's possible path.