Families of those aboard missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 allege that an “unjust” new law will deny them a chance to sue the struggling carrier for negligence.
Voice 370, a support group which says it represents relatives of passengers on the doomed Boeing 777, accused the Malaysian government of a “state-sponsored abuse of citizens’ rights” in passing legislation that protects the airline from legal action while it is restructured into a new company.
In a statement Wednesday, Voice 370 said it was “dismayed and disappointed by the Malaysian government’s unjust use of an Act of Parliament to suspend and/or deny existing rights in law, including access to justice mechanisms, for the benefit of a private business.”
The group said the new law allows interim administrators of the state-backed airline to block legal claims for compensation for up to two years, by which time the old company “would most likely be an empty shell with no assets or money.”
It said the move was a “ploy” to protect the airline, which will be a new company but owned by the same government sovereign fund with the same CEO and same employees.
The new law, which was passed Feb. 20, is “is purely legal gymnastics to avoid liabilities and responsibilities,” Voice 370 said.
Passengers would still be entitled to compensation from insurers under the Montreal Convention, but they must apply ahead of a March 8 deadline and payouts would be limited because the convention prevents punitive damages unless the airline is proven to be negligent.
The investigation into MH370 has been stalled by the absence of any wreckage apart from a single flaperon that washed up on the southern Indian Ocean island of Reunion in July.
The Voice 370 comments were backed by the girlfriend of an American passenger on the flight, which disappeared March 8, 2014 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board.
“The egregious behavior of the Malaysian government has gone mostly unnoticed,” Sara Bajc, whose partner Philip Wood was on the plane, wrote in an email to NBC News.
“Besides the terrible crimes of negligence and obstruction — for allowing the plane to disappear then impeding the investigation of the disappearance of 239 people — the Malaysian government has also prevented the pursuit of reparations by affected families.”
A hunt is still underway in the southern Indian Ocean but nations involved — including Malaysia, China and Australia — have already agreed that it will end if no more wreckage is found in the current search zone.
In a statement, the administrators of Malaysia Airlines said the carrier "remains committed to continue engaging with next of kin in good faith with regard to ensuring a fair and equitable compensation."
It said 42 next of kin had "collected" Montreal Convention compensation and 96 others had asked to "commence legal proceedings."
Malaysia Airlines "has insurance coverage in place to meet its obligation to pay compensation ... as per its obligations under applicable international conventions and law," it said, adding that it would "strongly encourage all next of kin who have yet to file their claims to do so" by March 8.