Australia has said that it is not ruling out a future underwater search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 if any credible new evidence emerges.
Offering some hope to angry relatives of the 239 people on board the Boeing 777 that disappeared in March 2014 while en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur, Australian Transport Minister Darren Chester told reporters: "I don't rule out a future underwater search by any stretch."
However, any new search will resume only if there is "credible new information which leads to a specific location" and it would be at the discretion of the Malaysian government, Reuters reports.
Chester was speaking to reporters in Melbourne a day after Australia, Malaysia and China officially called off the search in the southern Indian Ocean, to the dismay and anger of family members of the victims on board the plane.
Although the active search for the missing plane underwater has been suspended, Greg Hood, the head of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), said that "residual search activity" which covers satellite and drift analysis would continue until the end of February.
Malaysia Airlines hopeful aircraft will be eventually found
In a separate statement, Malaysia Airlines said it is hopeful that new information will emerge leading to the discovery of the missing plane, the Bernama news agency said.
In response to the tripartite communique issued by the three governments that the underwater search has been suspended, the airline said: "MAS remains hopeful that in the near future, new and significant information will come to light and the aircraft will eventually be located."
While it remains guided by the decision of the three governments to call off the search, it said: "We share the sorrow that the search has not produced the outcome that everyone had hoped for."
The airline described the search undertaken so far as thorough and comprehensive and expressed appreciation to the governments and parties involved in the three-year hunt for the Boeing 777.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with all those who are affected by this tragedy. We've lost a part of our family and they will forever be remembered, " it said.
MAS group chief executive Peter Bellew said he believed the search will now take a completely different course going forward, suggesing a desk-based approach to review the data and evidence at hand with a view to harnessing future advances in search technology.
Victims' families outraged
The victims' families and support groups, however, were outraged that the search for the missing aircraft has been suspected. Voice370, a support group for the victims' families, said: "Commercial planes cannot just be allowed to disappear without a trace."
It added: "Stopping at this stage is nothing short of irresponsible, and betrays a shocking lack of faith in the data, tools and recommendations of an array of official experts assembled by the authorities themselves."
In a statement published on Facebook, Voice370 said that it is dismayed by the decision to suspend the search and questioned why the recommendation by the ATSB of a new search area 25,000 square kilometres north of the previous search area was not followed up.
"In our view, extending the search to the new area defined by the experts is an inescapable duty owed to the flying public in the interest of aviation safety," it said.
The group appealed to "all nations, the ICAO, the civil aviation industry, aircraft and equipment manufacturers, civil society organisations and the flying public across the world to prevail upon the aforementioned countries to continue the search."