SYDNEY, Australia — Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Thursday that satellite imagery had detected floating objects in the southern Indian Ocean that might be parts of the missing Malaysia Airlines jet that vanished on March 8.
Abbott and an Australian rescue organizer both counseled caution about the sighting, and the first Australian Air Force plane to fly over the estimated location of the objects returned to base without spotting anything that fit the description — a reminder of how the hunt for the Boeing 777 could remain long, difficult and possibly fruitless.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority said in a message on Twitter that the P-3 Orion plane was “unable to locate debris. Cloud and rain limited visibility. Further aircraft to continue search.”
A U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon, a long-range aircraft used for surveillance and anti-submarine warfare, also reported that it had detected “no indication of debris” from the missing jet, Cmdr. William J. Marks, the spokesman for the U.S. 7th Fleet, said in an email.
Military long-distance surveillance planes from Australia, New Zealand and the United States are scheduled to continue flying out west from Western Australia to search a zone of the southern Indian Ocean for the possible debris from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.
“The Australian Maritime Safety Authority has received information based on satellite imagery of objects possibly related to the search,” Abbott told parliament in Canberra, the capital. “Following specialist analysis of this satellite imagery, two possible objects related to the search have been identified.”
Abbott said he had told Malaysia’s prime minister, Najib Razak, of the developments.
Abbott cautioned that “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 370 and its 239 passengers and crew, whose routine flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing disappeared.
As well as the aerial searches, the St. Petersburg, a Norwegian-registered vessel on its way to Australia from South Africa, was redirected southward at the request of the Australian maritime search and rescue authorities two days ago and again Wednesday night, to help search a patch of the southern Indian Ocean for any possible plane debris, Haakon Svane, the director for crisis management and contingency planning for the Norwegian Shipowners’ Association, said by telephone from Oslo.
The crew of about 20, all Filipinos, scanned the waters and used the ship’s radar to search for debris.
So far, nothing of interest has turned up.
“I haven’t had any information that they’ve found something yet, but the search will continue and we’re expecting this to take a little bit of time,” Svane said.