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On 8th March, 2014, Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 left Kuala Lumpur airport bound to Beijing but sadly never completed the journey. Since this tragedy there has been an extensive search operation under way, consisting multiple and multinational search and rescue teams, all patrolling the Southern Indian Ocean.

There has been an array of major equipment and expertise deployed, including aeroplanes, ships and submarines. And search assistance has come from nations all over the world, including: Malaysia, Japan, China, Australia, South Korea, USA, New Zealand and the UK.

The cost of this search for the missing plane is enormous, and is rising – it runs into many millions. Such costs will include: fuel, supplies, and staffing costs.

A difficult but very real question to ask is how much the search will eventually cost, and who will pay for it? This is a question which, under the circumstances, is difficult to address and, in several ways it resonates with other ‘disaster’ scenarios like international wars or relief efforts.

The answer to the question is far from clear cut, and maybe the general public will never truly know the exact extent of total costs involved. But it’s an issue that cannot be ignored and will eventually need to be tackled (and management accountants will likely be in the thick of such activities).

Much of the cost of the flight MH370 search will probably (eventually) be borne by contingency funds set aside in the budgets of cooperating governments, but some aspects will probably be organised and calculated through political and other (non-financial) means. This is a situation where, alongside the financial (or accounting) dimensions, government decision makers and accountants will need to give due and considerable attention to moral responsibilities towards grieving families and to ‘do the right thing’.

Source: BBC News Asia website, ‘Missing Malaysian plane: how much will MH370 search cost?’, 8.4.14