CANBERRA • Australia has released satellite images from 2014 which show a number of "probably man-made" objects floating in the sea near the suspected crash site of the missing Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370, reported British news site The Guardian.
The satellite images, coupled with drift-modelling analysis, suggest a potentially smaller search area for the Boeing 777 - a 5,000 sq km area just north of the former search zone. Previous recommendations to extend the earlier search northwards by 25,000 sq km had been rejected as being too imprecise.
The undersea search by Australia, China and Malaysia for the jet, which vanished on March 8, 2014, was called off in January despite protests by the passengers' families, but Australian agencies have continued to carry out drift- modelling and satellite analyses.
Australian Transport Safety Bureau chief Greg Hood yesterday released a statement alongside two reports from Geosciences Australia and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). The satellite images were acquired with the assistance of the French authorities.
"They (the reports) provide analysis and findings relating to satellite imagery taken on March 23, 2014, two weeks after the disappearance of MH370, over the southern Indian Ocean," said Mr Hood.
"Geosciences Australia identified a number of objects in the satellite imagery which have been classified as probably man-made. The image resolution is not high enough to be certain whether the objects originated from MH370 or are other objects that might be found floating in oceans around the world."
Mr Hood, however, advised caution over these latest findings, saying: "These objects have not been definitely identified as MH370 debris."
He said that while it was not up to Australia to decide whether a new underwater search should be commissioned, this latest data "may be useful" in informing any further search effort "that may be mounted in the future".
CSIRO oceanographer David Griffin, who is the report's lead author, told Reuters by telephone that if the debris spotted in the pictures was authentic, then it supported previous ocean-drift analysis pointing to a crash zone just to the north of the area that was most thoroughly searched.
"It all fits together so perfectly, the only thing missing is proof that those actually are pieces of a plane," Mr Griffin said.
Malaysia, as the state of registry for the aircraft, retains overall authority and responsibility for any future search, the statement said.
Reuters reported that Malaysian Deputy Transport Minister Aziz Kaprawi declined to comment on the agency's report, saying he was awaiting further information from the Australian authorities.
But he said Malaysia has not given up on the search and it had called for a meeting with Australian and Chinese authorities to discuss an offer from a private seabed exploration firm, Ocean Infinity, to resume the search.
"No decision has been made but we are definitely considering a new search. We will seek input from our counterparts," Datuk Aziz told Reuters.
US firm Ocean Infinity had earlier this month offered to resume the search for free, and would seek payment only if the aircraft was found.
Reuters also reported Australian Transport Minister Darren Chester as saying the new analysis "does not provide new evidence leading to a specific location of MH370".
MH370's disappearance remains one of the world's greatest aviation mysteries. The Beijing-bound flight departed from Kuala Lumpur with 239 passengers and crew on board, and is believed to have been diverted thousands of kilometres off course over the Indian Ocean before crashing off the coast of Western Australia.