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Chinese icebreaker continues search for MH370

(Xinhua) Updated: 2014-03-25 11:50

Chinese icebreaker continues search for MH370

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PERTH/BEIJING - Chinese icebreaker Xuelong on Tuesday pressed ahead with the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean.

The Antarctic research vessel is now 130 nautical miles away from its target area.

Due to adverse weather, Xuelong has lowered its speed, but continued to scour waters surrounding the area where Chinese searching planes spotted some suspicious objects Monday.

Citing the forecast of strong gale force winds, periods of heavy rain and low cloud, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) suspended all sea and air search operations for Tuesday.

"Search operations are expected to resume tomorrow, if weather conditions permit," the AMSA said in a statement.

The crew of the two Chinese IL-76 aircraft involved said they would follow the AMSA's arrangement, but they would keep the planes at the ready.

Also on Tuesday, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said that the MH370 case has moved from the phase of search into one of recovery and investigation.

"I have today been in further contact with Prime Minister Najib Razak of Malaysia to offer him Australia's continuing help, support and cooperation in what has now moved from a search to a recovery and investigation phase," he told reporters.

"I understand that the loved ones of those on that plane may well wish to come to Australia in coming days and weeks. They will find a welcoming country that is more than willing to embrace them in this very difficult time," he added.

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Tuesday that China has already asked Malaysia to provide all the information and evidence leading to the conclusion that the plane that carried 239 people on board had ended in the Indian Ocean.

Hong said in a statement that China has already noticed the announcement by Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak on Monday that the missing plane had ended in the South Indian Ocean.

He said China, which is still searching, hopes that the Malaysian side and other countries will also continue their search.

Late Monday, Najib told a press conference in Kuala Lumpur that the missing plane "ended" in the southern Indian Ocean, saying that the conclusion was made by the UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch and Inmarsat, a British company that provided the satellite data.

"This is a remote location, far from any possible landing sites," said Najib, adding that more details will be announced at a press briefing Tuesday morning.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Monday that the United States has sent a towed pinger locator, an autonomous underwater vehicle, and trained personnel to Australia in case the equipment is needed to search for the black boxes of the Boeing 777.

A towed pinger locator and a Bluefin-21 autonomous underwater vehicle were flown out of New York to Perth, Australia, earlier in the day, and expected to arrive there Tuesday, Kirby told a press briefing.

The towed pinger locator could be used to locate the missing airliner's black boxes, while the Bluefin-21 has sophisticated sonars that could be used to locate wreckage, he said.

The underwater drone can dive to 14,700 feet (4,410 meters), and if needed, the vehicle will operate off an Australian commercial ship, he said.

However, Kirby stressed that the equipment is being sent to Perth just in case "there be a need."

"We don't have a debris field that we can go look for specifically," Kirby said. "We don't have anything to indicate where the aircraft is, or even that it is down at the bottom of the ocean."

Asked if the U.S. Navy will step up search efforts in the region, Kirby said there is "no immediate changes on the horizon that I see from the U.S. Navy's perspective."

The U.S. side is currently focused on fixed-wing aircraft with one P-3 and one P-8 patrol aircraft and the equipment that Beijing sent there in case it is needed, he said.

The U.S. State Department said Monday that it has no "independent corroboration" about the announced crash of the missing jetliner in the southern Indian Ocean.

"I don't have any independent corroboration of that," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters at a regular news briefing.

"I have no reason to believe it's not true. I just don't have any update for you," Harf said, adding Washington was working "very closely" with the Malaysian government.

Chinese maritime authorities said late Monday night that China will send more vessels to the waters of the southern Indian Ocean to search and salvage wreckage of MH370.

The China Maritime Search and Rescue Center said it was working on solutions overnight, promising to beef up search efforts after the Najib announcement.

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