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'Former Australia defence boss to head MH370 search'

شعار Agence France-Presse (AFP)Agence France-Presse (AFP) 30/03/2014 AFP
Wing Commander Rob Shearer looks through binoculars on the flight deck of a Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3K2 Orion aircraft searching for missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 on March 29, 2014 © AFP Wing Commander Rob Shearer looks through binoculars on the flight deck of a Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3K2 Orion aircraft searching for missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 on March 29, 2014

Former Australian defence chief Angus Houston will take over coordination of the international search effort for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, reports said Sunday.

The retired air chief marshal will head a new joint agency coordination centre to be set up in Perth which will coordinate the search for the Boeing 777, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported.

Sydney's Daily Telegraph said Houston's brief was to not only lead the search but also coordinate the often delicate diplomatic contacts with search partners in Malaysia, China, the United States, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.

He will also ensure the joint agency provides a single point where the families of the 239 people who were onboard the flight when it disappeared on March 8 can obtain information, the newspaper reported.

It said services available to the families, most of whom are Chinese, would include up-to-date information and travel assistance, including visa services, accommodation advice, interpreter services and counselling.

The reports did not say when Houston, who was chief of the Australian Defence Force from 2005-2011, was expected to take over.

Many of the families of those missing, particularly the Chinese, have been critical of the way Malaysia has treated them, accusing Kuala Lumpur of providing insufficient information as they endure an agonising wait to learn the fate of their loved ones.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Saturday that international protocols meant Malaysia would remain in charge of the search operation but Australia was ready to assist where possible.

Abbott's office could not be immediately contacted for comment on Houston's reported appointment. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which has so-far coordinated the Perth-based search effort, declined to comment.

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