The Ministry of Defense has sent four of its recently acquired, Chinese-built Z-9 utility helicopters and two Royal Cambodian Navy vessels to the Cambodia-Vietnam maritime border to assist in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, according to a press release issued Tuesday.
The announcement marks a turnaround as the government previously claimed it lacked the capacity to join the search and rescue efforts for the plane, which was carrying 239 passengers when it went missing March 8 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
“The Ministry of National Defense has ordered every unit under the command of Infantry, Navy and Air Force and other units, which are based on the islands and surveillance vessels patrolling along the Cambodia maritime zone, to be actively engaged with the fishermen to search for any signals of the missing aircraft,” the statement says.
It is not clear in what capacity Cambodia’s assistance will be utilized, or whether it will be coordinated into the multilateral search efforts involving 26 countries.
Vietnam initially led the search operation in the Gulf of Thailand in waters close to Cambodia, but pulled back two days ago when military and satellite data appeared to show the plane fly west —away from the South China Sea—for several hours toward the Indian Ocean.
Malaysia’s acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein on Tuesday said the unprecedented search was now focused on a total area of 7.68 million sq km—from Central Asia to the southern Indian Ocean.
Neither Defense Minister Tea Banh nor Navy Commander Tea Vinh could be reached for comment.
On Monday, about 1,000 people from the Phnom Penh’s Muslim community gathered at the Nurunnaim Mosque in Russei Keo district to pray for the 239 passengers on board the missing aircraft from Malaysia, a majority Muslim country.
“We prayed for the passengers on the missing flight to come back safe and sound,” said Othsman Hassan, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Labor and president of the NGO Cambodian Muslim Development Foundation.
“Like other people, such as Christians and Buddhists, who believe in religion, we are praying to Allah [God] to help find the missing aircraft and its passengers,” he said.
Activists from Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak and Borei Keila communities also on Monday held a religious gathering to pray for the passengers.
“We prayed that they come home safe, all their family members are waiting to see them to come back home,” said Song Sreyleap, a Boeng Kak activist.