A ROYAL Navy survey ship has been sent to help with the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, after debris was sighted off the coast of Australia.
HMS Echo is in the area where two large objects have been spotted on satellite pictures, the Ministry of Defence said.
Earlier, four military search planes were dispatched to try to determine whether two large objects bobbing in a remote part of the Indian Ocean were debris from the missing Malaysia Airlines flight.
At a news conference on Wednesday, Malaysian Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein described the possible sighting as a “credible lead”.
One of the objects spotted by satellite imagery had a dimension of 25 metres (82 feet) and the other one was smaller.
There could be other objects in waters nearby in the area that is a four-hour flight from Australia’s coast, said John Young, manager of Australian Maritime Safety Authority’s emergency response division.
“This is a lead, it’s probably the best lead we have right now,” he said, while cautioning that the objects could also be seaborne debris along a key shipping route where containers periodically fall off cargo vessels.
Mr Young told a news conference in Canberra, Australia’s capital, that planes had been sent to the area about 1,550 miles south-west of Perth to check on the objects.
He said that satellite images “do not always turn out to be related to the search even if they look good, so we will hold our views on that until they are sighted close-up”.
Australian prime minister Tony Abbott had earlier told Parliament about the debris, and said Orion search aircraft were expected to arrive in the area later today.
He said that a Royal Australian Airforce Orion has been diverted to the area to attempt to locate the objects.
The Orion is expected to arrive in the area later today. Three additional aircraft were expected to follow for a more intensive search.
Mr Abbott cautioned, however, that 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”.
Mr Young said visibility was poor and may hamper efforts to find the objects.
He said they “are relatively indistinct on the imagery ... but those who are experts indicate they are credible sightings.
“The indication to me is of objects that are a reasonable size and probably awash with water, moving up and down over the surface.”
He warned against expectations that this may help solve the mystery of the plane that went missing with 239 people on board.
He said: “We have been in this business of doing search and rescue and using sat images before and they do not always turn out to be related to the search even if they look good, so we will hold our views on that until they are sighted close-up.”
Military planes from Australia, the US and New Zealand have been covering a search region over the southern Indian Ocean that was narrowed down from 232,000 square miles to 117,000 square miles.
The hunt for the Boeing 777 has been punctuated by several false leads since it disappeared March 8 above the Gulf of Thailand.
Oil slicks that were spotted did not contain jet fuel. A yellow object thought to be from the plane turned out to be a piece of sea trash. Chinese satellite images showed possible plane debris, but nothing was found.
But this is the first time that possible objects have been spotted since the search area was massively expanded into two corridors, one stretching from northern Thailand into Central Asia and the other from the Strait of Malacca down to southern reaches of the Indian Ocean.
Australia’s envoy to Malaysia, Rod Smith, joined a meeting of senior Malaysia search officials at a Kuala Lumpur hotel after Mr Abbott’s announcement.