Beijing/Sydney/Kuala Lumpur, March 20 (Xinhua)
Chinese naval vessels were heading for the south Indian Ocean off the Australian coast Thursday after a fresh twist was given to the mystery of the missing Malaysian airliner with Australian authorities reporting that suspicious objects were found in the area.
The Chinese navy currently has two fleets engaged in the search missions. They are about 2,300 and 3,100 nautical miles, respectively, from the waters where possible debris of the missing Malaysia Airlines passenger jet was found, Chinese navy spokesman Liang Yang said Thursday.
The navy adjusted its search focus immediately after receiving the report from Australia, Xinhua reported.
According to Wednesday’s plan, the Jinggangshan amphibious docking vessel was leading a fleet through the Malacca Strait and into waters west of the Andaman Islands.
Another fleet consisting of supply ship Qiandaohu, missile destroyer Haikou and amphibious transport dock Kunlunshan was heading for waters southwest of Sumatra through the Sunda Strait.
Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 vanished mysteriously about an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur March 8.
The Boeing 777-200ER was initially presumed to have crashed off the Vietnamese coast in the South China Sea.
The plane was scheduled to land in Beijing at 6.30 a.m. the same day. The 227 passengers on board included five Indians, 154 Chinese and 38 Malaysians.
Contact with the plane was lost along with its radar signal at 1.40 a.m. when it was flying over the air traffic control area of Ho Chi Minh City.
Earlier Thursday, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said that two objects, with the large one about 24 meters long, had been spotted in the southern Indian Ocean on satellite imagery and that they might be related to the missing Malaysian airliner.
The area where the objects were spotted is approximately 2,500 km southwest of Perth, the capital of Western Australia state, Xinhua reported.
“The objects are relatively indistinct. The indication to me is of objects that are of a reasonable size and probably awash with water and bobbing up and down on the surface,” AMSA official John Young said at a press conference in Canberra.
“The largest… was assessed as being 24 metres. There is another one that is smaller than that,” he added.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott too told parliament Thursday that new and credible information had come to light in relation to the search.
“Following specialist analysis of this satellite imagery, two possible objects related to the search have been identified,” Abbott said.
“We must keep in mind the task of locating these objects will be extremely difficult and it may turn out that they are not related to the search for flight MH370.”
The Australian prime minister also said he had informed his Malaysian counterpart Najib Razak about the new developments.
Following the report of the spotting of the objects, four aircraft have been deployed to the area, AMSA said.
A Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Orion aircraft arrived in the area about 1.50 p.m.
Three more aircraft have been tasked by RCC Australia to the area later in the day, including a Royal New Zealand Air Force Orion and a US Navy P8 Poseidon aircraft.
An RAAF C-130 Hercules aircraft has been tasked by RCC Australia to drop datum marker buoys.
These marker buoys assist RCC Australia by providing information about water movement to assist in drift modelling. They will provide an ongoing reference point if the task of relocating the objects becomes protracted.
A merchant ship that responded to a shipping broadcast issued by RCC Australia Monday is expected to arrive in the area about 6 p.m.
The HMAS Success is also en route to the scene. The ship is equipped to recover any objects that have been located.
Meanwhile, a US Navy source said in Tokyo Thursday that satellite and radar imagery confirmed by AMSA as “credible lead” could be parts of the fuselage and wing of the missing Malaysia Airlines MH370 plane.
Smaller objects detected around the two larger objects could theoretically be debris from the plane, the Yokosuka Naval Base source said, requesting anonymity.
If the objects were confirmed to be parts of the missing MH370, the plane could possibly have made a soft-landing on the ocean rather than a nosedive as the debris has not been scattered, the source told Xinhua.
In a related development, it was announced Thursday that seven Indonesian nationals who were on board the Malaysian airliner that went missing March 8 have been cleared of any terrorist links, it was announced Thursday.
“I wish to state that none of our nationals had any link to terrorism,” Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said Thursday.
President Yudhoyono confirmed the news of dismissal of terror links based on a report submitted by Co-ordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Djoko Suyanto which stated that nothing “peculiar” had been found while investigating the backgrounds of all the seven nationals, the Malaysian Star reported.