SYDNEY (Bloomberg/AFP) - A team searching for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 found an uncharted shipwreck on the Indian Ocean seafloor.
Wreckage from the ship, including an anchor and lumps of coal, showed up about 3.9km below the surface, the Joint Agency Coordination Centre, an Australian government agency, said in an e-mailed statement on Wednesday. The debris was in the southern part of a 120,000 sq km search area, about a third of the way from Australia to Madagascar, that's being scanned by sonar.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau said it had spotted "multiple small bright reflections" on the otherwise featureless seabed which warranted close inspection.
Man-made objects are rare in the region, which lies away from major shipping lanes close to the turbulent waters of the Roaring Forties. Previous sonar passes have uncovered abandoned shipping containers and volcanic rocks which initially resembled a debris field.
"The majority of the contacts were comparatively small - around the size of a cricket ball - interspersed with a few larger items," the agency said of the shipwreck in its statement on Wednesday. The biggest of the objects was "box shaped and approximately 6m in its longest dimension", it added.
The shipwreck was not previously charted and imagery will be given to marine archaeologists in an attempt to identify it, the agency said.
Data from a high-resolution sonar scan using an autonomous underwater vehicle revealed possible items. While the debris field appeared to be of man-made origin, it failed to have all the characteristics of a typical aircraft debris field so the authorities sent down an underwater camera which discovered the shipwreck.
"It's a fascinating find," said Mr Peter Foley, director of the operational search for MH370. "But it's not what were looking for."
Images clearly showed an anchor, along with other objects that the searchers said were man-made.
Mr Foley said officials were not pausing in the search for MH370, whose disappearance is one of aviation's great mysteries.
"Obviously, we're disappointed that it wasn't the aircraft, but we were always realistic about the likelihood," he added in a statement.
"And this event has really demonstrated that the systems, people and the equipment involved in the search are working well. It's shown that if there's a debris field in the search area, we'll find it."
The search for the aircraft has been a complex undertaking, with Australia concentrating on a remote area of the southern Indian Ocean far off its west coast spanning 60,000 sq km.
Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 vanished March 8 last year en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. No trace of the flight and the 239 people on board has been found since.
Australia, Malaysia and China April 16 agreed to almost double the size of the search area if the plane isn't found when the current search stage finishes later this month.
The Australian-led team is scouring the southern Indian Ocean seabed in hope of finding the final resting place of MH370.