Six ships search for MH370 debris breakthrough in new area

PERTH (AFP) - A flotilla of ships was searching on Saturday for more objects identified by military aircraft as possible wreckage of MH370 as efforts to locate the missing Malaysia Airlines passenger jet stepped up a gear.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority said six ships - five of them Chinese - were expected to be in place in the search area 1,850 kilometres west of Perth by the end of Saturday.

It said a second Australian navy ship, HMAS Toowoomba, had left port near Perth to join the search in a journey which would take about three days.

Late on Saturday, a Chinese surveillance plane reported it found three more objects - white, red and orange - in the new search waters, Chinese state media reported.

As new aircraft, ships and a team of navy divers prepared to join the search, the head of New Zealand's Defence Force, Air Vice-Marshal Kevin Short, said the debris first sighted by its P3 Orion aircraft on Friday was between half a metre and one metre in size, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

Most of the 11 objects were rectangular in shape, although there was another that was orange and resembled a shipping buoy.

Most were found in a relatively small area and sonar buoys had been dropped by the aircraft to assist ships who would be tasked to identity them, the report said.

Numerous satellite and air sightings of unidentified debris have raised hopes that wreckage of the Malaysia Airlines plane will finally be found.

 Object sightings in Indian Ocean

On Monday Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced that, based on fresh British analysis of satellite data, the plane had been lost at sea.

But after three weeks of false leads and sometimes conflicting information, many desperate and angry relatives are refusing to abandon hope until physical proof of a crash is found.

"Everyone knows that you are concealing the truth and delayed the research!" one of them told Malaysian officials at a tense briefing in Beijing on latest developments.

Another said Najib had "rushed to a conclusion" with his announcement and should retract it. Most of the audience applauded loudly.

The search moved Friday to a new sea zone after fresh data indicated the plane was flying faster than first thought before it is presumed to have run out of fuel and plunged into the sea.

Its disappearance, during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, is one of the greatest mysteries in aviation history.

Malaysia believes the plane was deliberately redirected by someone on board before being flown thousands of miles southwards, but nothing else is known.

Attention has focused on the pilot but Malaysian transport minister Hishammuddin Hussein said nothing incriminating had been found on a flight simulator seized at his home.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott - whose country is coordinating the search - said teams faced a formidable task.

"We should not underestimate the difficulty of this work, it is an extraordinarily remote location," he told reporters.

"We are trying to find small bits of wreckage in a vast ocean. While we're throwing everything we have at it, the task goes on."

The new zone is however closer to land, meaning planes can spend more time searching before having to return to refuel, and enjoys better weather than seas further south where the search had previously concentrated.

Adding to the urgency is the time limit of about 30 days on the tracking signal emitted by the plane's "black box" of flight data.

The US Pacific Fleet has moved specialised black box locator equipment to Perth and Abbott said it would be deployed on an Australian navy ship once an approximate crash site is established.

Chinese media, officials and relatives have all criticised what they see as an inadequate and sometimes secretive response by Malaysia to the crisis.