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Malaysia considers tip that MH370 may be in Bay of Bengal

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By Holly Yan and David McKenzie

BEIJING (CNN) -- Days after authorities dismissed the idea that MH370 may be in the Bay of Bengal, a top Malaysian official said Friday he is considering the possibility of sending a ship there.

Acting Transportation Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said the tip could only be confirmed by sending vessels to the area, which is thousands of kilometers away from the official search area in the southern Indian ocean.

"But I just want to stress that by doing that, we are distracting ourselves from the main search," Hussein said Friday. "And in the event that the result from the search is negative, who is going to be responsible for that loss of time?"

Hussein said the odds of finding MH370 is in the Bay of Bengal is "highly unlikely," but he has not yet decided whether to deploy a vessel to the bay.

His comments came three days after the Australian company GeoResonance publicized its claim that it may have found the wreckage of a plane in the Bay of Bengal.

While GeoResonance said it's not sure whether the plane is MH370, the company said it has been pressing officials to take a look.

But the chief coordinator of the international search effort said he's convinced the current search area is correct.

"I am confident that the area in the southern (Indian) Ocean is the right search area, and I'm sure that in ... some time, we'll find the aircraft in that area of the Indian Ocean," chief coordinator Angus Houston said Friday.

He said three Bangladeshi naval ships have arrived in the Bay of Bengal to investigate. So far, Houston said, the ships have found nothing.

Houston said the search for the plane, which was carrying 239 people when it disappeared on March 8, may take eight to 12 months.

Families told to go home

After nearly two months of waiting inside Beijing's Lido Hotel, relatives of Chinese passengers said Friday they've been told to leave.

"Chinese officials asked the family members to leave the hotel by 6 p.m. today," said Wang Yong Zhi, whose wife was on MH370. "We don't have a choice."

More than 100 passengers on the plane are Chinese, and the hotel has been a sentimental and informational hub for their families. Malaysia Airlines officials have been briefing families at the Lido over the past several weeks.

On Thursday, some relatives wailed and yelled when the airline announced it was closing such assistance centers.

"Instead of staying in hotels, the families of MH370 are advised to receive information updates on the progress of the search and investigation and other support by Malaysia Airlines within the comfort of their own homes, with the support and care of their families and friends," the airline said in a news release.

The hotel has seen increased police and government presence over the past few days. Media have been barred from broadcasting within the hotel complex.

"What can we do?" one relative yelled as others kneeled in front of police.

Wang said family members signed a letter and left fingerprints and agreed that a committee representing the families will continue working with Malaysia Airlines and the government on issues such as compensation.

Under an international treaty known as the Montreal Convention, the airline must pay relatives of each deceased passenger an initial sum of around $150,000 to $175,000. Relatives of victims can also sue for further damages.

Malaysia Airlines said Thursday it would begin making advance compensation to the Flight 370 passengers' next of kin to help with their immediate economic needs. But the airline didn't say how much of an advance the families would receive.

Sarah Bajc, the American partner of Flight 370 passenger Philip Wood, said she was one of about 500 people at the Lido Hotel meeting on Thursday.

She said Chinese relatives had told her they dreaded the day that the hotel centers would close, fearing they wouldn't get timely updates at their rural homes.

"They are very distraught, because the average Chinese family member will be sent home to mostly a very rural place with limited access to (the) Internet," she said. "They just feel like all lines of communications will be cut."
   
 CNN's David McKenzie reported from Beijing; CNN's Holly Yan reported and wrote from Atlanta. CNN's Jason Hanna also contributed to this report.
   
 The-CNN-Wire
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