By Tom Westbrook
SYDNEY (Reuters) - The Australian government said on Wednesday it was not ruling out a future underwater search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, but added there was currently no credible new evidence to warrant it.
"I don't rule out a future underwater search by any stretch," Australian Transport Minister Darren Chester told reporters in Melbourne, a day after the tripartite group of Australia, Malaysia and China officially called off the search in the southern Indian Ocean.
Families of passengers on board the Boeing 777, which disappeared en route to Beijing from the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur with 239 people on board, have criticized the decision to halt the search.
Chester said restarting the search would require "credible new information which leads to a specific location," and that it would be at the discretion of the Malaysian government.
A recommendation from investigators last month to look to the north of the 120,000 sq km (46,000 sq mile) area that has been the focus of search efforts was not specific enough, he said.
The head of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), which led the hunt for the plane, said authorities are confident it is not in the area where they have been looking.
ATSB chief commissioner Greg Hood said "residual search activity," including satellite and drift analysis would continue until the end of February.
(Reporting by Tom Westbrook; Editing by Jane Wardell, Toni Reinhold)