BANGKOK - Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott, whose country is taking a lead role to find the missing Malaysian jet, says he has set no time limit on the search for the aircraft. Officials said debris spotted Sunday that was considered to be a promising lead, instead turned out to be fishing equipment.
In recent weeks, satellites and spotter planes have located hundreds of pieces of debris that investigators have hoped could be traced to flight MH370. But so far, they have not found any debris or objects from the missing plane.
On Monday, a flotilla of 11 ships, including seven from China, and 10 aircraft scoured a 254,000 square kilometer area of the Indian Ocean. The searchers reported several more objects identified as promising leads.
Despite the frustrations, Abbott said there was no immediate time limit on efforts to find the plane.
"I'm certainly not putting a time limit on [the search]," he said in Perth, Monday. "We owe it to the families, we owe it to everyone who travels by air, we owe it to the governments of the countries who had citizens on that aircraft, we owe it to the wider world which has been transfixed by this mystery for three weeks now, we owe it to everyone to do whatever we reasonably can and we can keep searching for quite some time to come."
Abbott said the intensity of the operations was increasing despite challenges and the magnitude of operations of what he termed "an extraordinarily difficult exercise."
Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said Monday he is traveling to Hawaii this week to meet with the U.S. defense secretary to discuss the search effort. He will also speak with fellow ASEAN Defense Ministers while in Honolulu.
Malaysian authorities say they are working with Australia to create a new Joint Agency Coordination Center, headed by a retired Australian Air Chief Marshal, that will coordinate the international search effort out of Pearce Air force base in Perth, Australia.
A ship carrying a specialized black box locator is due to arrive in the search area on Thursday. Investigators hope that if they can get the device within range of the aircraft’s flight recorder, it will be able to detect its signal and searchers will be able to locate the main wreckage of the aircraft.
Twenty six nations are involved in the search for Malaysian flight MH370 that disappeared off radar on March 8 while bound for Beijing with 239 passengers and crew on board. The majority of those on the plane - 154 - are Chinese nationals.
Dozens of items have been spotted since Australian authorities moved the search 1,100 km (685 miles) north after new analysis of radar and satellite data, but none has been linked to Flight MH370.
Several orange items recovered on Sunday turned out to be fishing equipment, a spokesman from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said.
"Yesterday's finds were nothing of note, nothing related to the plane," he said.
A multinational air search team and 10 ships, including seven Chinese vessels, two Australian navy craft and a merchant ship, were searching the area on Monday.
A Malaysian frigate arrived at HMAS Stirling naval base near Perth for briefings on the search area, AMSA added. The new search area, while closer to Perth and subject to
calmer weather, is also closer to an area of the Indian Ocean where currents drag all manner of flotsam and rubbish.
"I would say the search area is located just outside of what we call the garbage patches," Erik van Sebille, an oceanographer at the University of New South Wales said.
"However, there is much more debris there than in the Southern Ocean. Debris from Western Australia that ends up in the garbage patches will have to move through the search area."
But the greatest problem remains the vast search area, roughly the size of Poland or New Mexico.
"If you compare this to Air France Flight 447, we had much better positional information of where that aircraft went into the water," U.S. Navy Captain Mark Matthews said on Sunday, referring to a plane that crashed in 2009 near Brazil and which took more than two years to find.
Chinese family members still angry
Family members of the Chinese nationals on board the Boeing 777 have strongly protested Malaysia's handling of the situation.
In recent days, several Chinese family members travelled to Kuala Lumpur to press the Malaysian government, as well as aircraft maker Boeing and engine producer, Rolls Royce, for more information.
But on Monday, the state-backed China Daily published a commentary that appeared to soften the official tone, saying people should "not let anger prevail" and for families to accept the tragedy. The newspaper said all that can be done is to continue the search for the wreckage.
Some information for this report provided by Reuters