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Tripartite Background

A background for the Tripartite agreement (MOU) between the governments of Malaysia, the People's Republic of China, and Australia is provided here by an extract from the report The Operational Search for MH370[1] released by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) on 3 October 2017.


On 8 March 2014, a Boeing 777-200ER aircraft, registered 9M-MRO and operated as Malaysia Airlines flight 370 (MH370) disappeared during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, carrying 12 Malaysian crew members and 227 passengers.

At the request of the Malaysian Government, the Australian Government accepted responsibility for initial search operations in the southern part of the Indian Ocean on 17 March 2014. A surface search by aircraft and surface vessels in the Indian Ocean, coordinated by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), and an acoustic sub-surface search for the aircraft’s flight recorder underwater locator beacons, found no debris nor signals associated with MH370.

The Malaysian Government, as the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Annex 13 state of registry for Malaysia Airlines, was responsible for the overall strategic approach to the search for MH370 and the associated investigation. The majority of the passengers on board MH370 were from Malaysia and the People’s Republic of China, however due to the proximity of the search area to Australia, and the request from Malaysia to Australia to lead search operations, Malaysia, the People’s Republic of China and Australia agreed to collaborate in relation to the overarching search strategy. This cooperation is referred to as the Tripartite arrangement.

On 30 March 2014, the then Prime Minister of Australia, the Hon Tony Abbott MP, established the Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC) to coordinate the Australian Government's support for the search for missing flight MH370. The JACC was the coordination point for whole-of-Australian Government information, messaging and international engagement, including keeping the families of those on board and the general public informed of the progress of the search.

At the conclusion of the surface search on 28 April 2014, the Australian Prime Minister offered that Australia could continue to lead search operations. Tripartite meetings in May 2014 agreed to this arrangement and the ATSB was tasked to lead an intensified and continuous underwater search of an initial area of 60,000 square kilometres (km2 ). Subsequent Tripartite meetings in August 2014 agreed that Australia, through the ATSB, would also lead a recovery operation if and when the aircraft was located and a recovery was deemed suitable by the Tripartite.

A Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation between the Governments of Australia and Malaysia in relation to MH370 (the MOU) provided a mechanism to formalise agreements on cooperation between the two governments. The then Australian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development, the Hon Warren Truss MP, and Malaysian Minister for Transport Dato' Seri Liow Tiong Lai signed the MOU on 28 August 2014.

The MOU included a number of supplemental arrangements as annexures detailing the scope of work and responsibilities for specific areas of cooperation regarding MH370. The areas of cooperation included search, recovery, disaster victim identification, investigation, dealing with the debris site, and facilitating interactions with the next of kin. The MOU, and associated annexures, was deemed to have come into effect on 17 March 2014 for a period of three years.

On 16 April 2015, Tripartite Ministers met, considered next steps for the search and agreed that:

  • If MH370 was not positively located in the initial 60,000 km2 search area that the search would be expanded to an area of 120,000 km2.
  • When MH370 was located, a recovery operation would proceed with priorities for the recovery operation to include:
    • - the aircraft’s flight recorders
    • - selected wreckage
    • - where possible, human remains.

On 22 July 2016, Tripartite Ministers met and agreed that should the aircraft not be located in the search area, and in the absence of credible new evidence leading to the identification of a specific location of the aircraft, the search would be suspended, not ended, upon completion of the 120,000 km2 search area. However, should credible new information emerge that can be used to identify the specific location of the aircraft, consideration would be given to determining next steps.

On 17 January 2017, in accordance with the decision made at the Ministerial Tripartite meeting in July 2016, the Tripartite countries issued a Joint Communiqué to announce the suspension of the underwater search following the completion of the 120,000 km2 search area.

--- End of Extract ---

Source: The Operational Search for MH370, Australian Transport Safety Bureau, 3 October 2017 Background

  1. The full version of this report is available for download from the ATSB website at
    The Report is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia licence and copyright by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau is respected.