Search for fishing vessel in distress in Antarctica

SYDNEY (AFP) - There were grave concerns on Monday for a fishing vessel that issued a distress signal from an area near Antarctica where debris has been sighted.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said it had detected an emergency distress beacon signal early Sunday about 648 kilometres north of the Antarctic mainland.

A civilian jet and an RAAF P3 Orion tasked with finding the vessel, thought to be a 75-metre Tanzanian-flagged fishing support ship, failed to do so in flyovers of the remote southern Indian Ocean area.

"The vessel was not located but debris was seen in the location of the beacon signal," AMSA said in a statement.

"Grave concerns are held for the crew." It was not known how many people were on board.

Australian authorities, who are already coordinating the Indian Ocean hunt for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, said the search, which was located about 3,241 kilometres southwest of Perth, would continue on Monday subject to weather conditions.

AMSA has so far been unable to contact the boat that issued the emergency distress signal and a broadcast has been issued to shipping to assist.

The authority is also attempting to identify and contact the owners of the ship to establish its whereabouts.