Ship manned by Filipinos responds to sighting of possible airline debris
MANILA—A Norwegian merchant ship manned by a crew of Filipinos was the first vessel to respond at the reported sighting of objects in the Indian Ocean that could have come from a missing jetliner that officials in Kuala Lumpur had described as a “credible lead” to the fate of Malaysian Airlines flight MH-370 since it disappeared nearly two weeks ago.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Friday that the local manning agency of vehicle carrier Höegh St. Petersburg had confirmed that 20 Filipinos man the vessel, the first to be sent on Thursday to check out the submerged objects as it was closest to the site.
“The local manning agency of vehicle carrier Höegh St. Petersburg confirmed that the vessel has joined in the search for flight MH 370 upon the request of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA). The vessel is manned by 20 Filipinos. The vessel reports to AMSA directly,” said Assistant Secretary Charles Jose, the DFA spokesperson.
In an update on its website, AMSA said the vessel was already in the search area. The report, however, did not indicate whether the Filipino crewmen had found the two objects, as officials earlier said it would still take days before the suspected debris could be located.
Spotted through satellite some 2,500 kms southwest of Perth, Australia, one of the objects measured 24 meters while the other measured five meters.
AMSA said another merchant vessel was on its way to the site, while long-range aerial surveillance aircraft from the US Navy and the Royal Australian Air Force have been deployed to search from the sky.
In an interview in Manila aboard the USS Blue Ridge earlier this week, Vice Adm. Robert Thomas Jr., commander of the US Seventh Fleet, said that the US had sent a P-3C Orion and a P-8A Poseidon to scour the vast expanse of the Indian Ocean using the most advanced radars to spot floating debris from high altitude.
He spoke to reporters Tuesday, before Australian authorities broke news about the spotted objects. Thomas described the search for the missing plane as being like “mowing grass,” where the surveillance planes must painstakingly scour the search area without missing a spot.
Describing the expanse of the search area, Cmdr. William Marks, information officer aboard the Blue Ridge, likened the search to looking for “a few people somewhere between New York and California, and we don’t know where.”