Fifty-fifty, a Malaysian official said of how his country and Australia will split the bill for the increasingly massive search for the missing jetliner. Not so fast, an Australian official responded.
The two nations discussed cost-sharing this week in Canberra, but Australian Transport Minister Warren Truss declined to say Friday whether his country was even considering an even split of the bill for a search that will take months, if not years, and cost tens of millions of dollars at a minimum.
"I don't want to give any indication as to where it's likely to end up," Truss told The Associated Press. "We are talking about this with the Malaysians and other countries who have got a key interest."
The government expects to spend 90 million Australian dollars ($84 million) on the search by July 2015. But the actual cost to Australia will depend on how quickly the plane can be found and how much other countries are willing to contribute. And a legal expert said Australia's obligations are murky because of the unprecedented nature of the plane's disappearance.
Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 veered off course during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8 and is believed to have crashed into the Indian Ocean far off the west Australian coast. The search area has changed several times, but no sign of the aircraft, or the 239 people aboard, has been found.
Countries are continuing to negotiate on how to fund the next phase of the sonar search of almost 56,000 square kilometres of seabed beneath water up to 7 kilometres deep.
Countries involved in the search, including Malaysia, Australia, the United States, China, Japan, Britain, South Korea and New Zealand, have carried their own costs to date. But Malaysian government lawmaker Jailani Johari, chairman of Malaysia's Liaison, Communication and Media Committee, told reporters in Kuala Lumpur this week that future costs "will be shared 50-50" between Malaysia and Australia.
The job is much more difficult than another complex and challenging search it is often compared to: the hunt for Air France Flight 447. Though debris from that aircraft was found within days, it took two years to recover the black boxes from the plane, which crashed off the coast of Brazil in 2009, killing 228 people.
The French government, the airline and aircraft manufacturer Airbus paid for the vast majority of the underwater search and recovery efforts.
Brazil, like Australia, had search and rescue responsibility for the crash site under the U.N. Convention on International Civil Aviation, also known as the Chicago Convention. But its costs were relatively limited.
Truss declined to say whether the Flight 447 precedent featured in the current funding negotiations, but said the question of who should pay for what under the Chicago Convention was "quite complex."