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MH370: Australia to search Indian Ocean

Tony Abbott says Australia has accepted a request from the Malaysian Prime Minister to assume responsibility for searching the Southern Indian Ocean for flight MH370.

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Australian border officials accessed Interpol's database of stolen passports just 335 times last year out of more than 30 million international visits, prompting a frustrated response from the international police agency.

The figure - just 0.001 per cent of international arrivals - compares with nearly 250 million checks by the United States, more than 120 million by Britain and more than 29 million by Singapore.

''Australia does not systematically screen any passports against Interpol's databases,'' spokesman Pietro Calcaterra told Fairfax Media. ''The truth is that Australia under-utilises Interpol's passport screening tools.''

Interpol says Australia does not systematically screen passports against the international police agency's databases.

Interpol says Australia does not systematically screen passports against the international police agency's databases.

International attention was focused on the problem last week after it emerged that two passengers aboard the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 boarded the plane with stolen passports.

Australia contributes to the Interpol database through the Foreign Affairs department, which provides daily updates to the international police organisation of any stolen or lost Australian passports.

But it is understood the Immigration department has resisted introducing a mandatory check of passports against the Interpol database at border crossings. The resistance is mostly based on the cost of upgrading computer systems.

Last week, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison's office said that ''document alert checks'' were performed on all travellers when they applied for visas and when they entered or left Australia and that ''relevant Interpol holdings form part of those checks''.

Notice of lost and stolen passports from Interpol and other sources, such as individual countries, were ''entered into the departmental alert system, which is checked on entry to the country, and also on application for a visa''.

On Monday, Mr Morrison's spokeswoman told Fairfax Media: ''While Australian alert systems contain information derived from Interpol, or also contained in Interpol databases, the Australian government has never claimed that it is currently linked to the Interpol Stolen or Lost Travel Documents for border entry and departure checking.''

Experts have told Fairfax Media that a person with a stolen or fake passport would be very unlikely to get into Australia without attracting attention.

But Mike Roach, director of the firm Homeland Security Asia/Pacific, said Australia should be using all the tools at its disposal.