Focus on missing jet's black box

Workers help secure a Phoenix underwater mapping robot before it is loaded on to the Ocean Shield...
Workers help secure a Phoenix underwater mapping robot before it is loaded on to the Ocean Shield at HMAS Stirling naval base near Perth. REUTERS/Jason Reed
An Australian navy vessel is heading out from Perth with special equipment able to detect signals from the black box recorder on missing Malaysia Airlines flight 370.

The Ocean Shield was due within the Indian Ocean search zone early today to join an international array of ships and aircraft scouring the seas for any sign of the lost plane.

It's dispatch comes with one of Australia's P-3 Orions spotting four orange-coloured objects at sea, each more than two metres in size.

The co-ordinates and images of the items, the latest to be sighted, were "of interest" but would need to be analysed, Flight Lieutenant Russell Adams told Fairfax Media from RAAF Pearce base after returning from an 11-hour mission on Sunday night.

A GPS buoy had also been dropped in the area of the sighting, Lt Adams said.

Similarly, the specialist US Navy technology on board the Ocean Shield will not be able to detect the "pinger" within the plane's black box until a more confined search area is identified.

The flight vanished with 239 people on board after setting out from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8.

Although a number of satellite cameras and aircraft crews have spotted objects in the water, no confirmed debris from the Boeing 777 have been picked up by surface vessels.

As more planes and ships joined the hunt on the weekend, Australia appointed one of its most decorated military figures to help co-ordinate the search for MH370.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott says retired Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, the country's former defence force chief, will lead a new joint agency co-ordination centre (JACC) in Perth.

The headquarters will help communication between international search partners, while trying to keep the families of those on the missing flight informed.

"There is no one better placed than Angus to co-ordinate and liaise given the quite significant number of countries that all have a stake in this search," he said.

Officials on Sunday said the first debris picked up by ships combing the updated search area about 1850km west of Perth was not from the stricken plane.

"It appeared to be fishing equipment and just rubbish on the (ocean's) surface," said a spokesman for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which is in charge of the operation.

It had been feared the 30-day life of the black box could expire before the equipment arrives.

But Captain Mark Matthews, the US Navy supervisor of salvage and diving, says the device is certified for 30 days but could last up to 15 days longer than that.

Australian Navy Commodore Peter Leavy said the focus was still to find debris and confirm it was from flight MH370, then work backwards to a possible crash site.

"The search area remains vast and this equipment can only be effectively employed when there is a high probability that the final location of Flight MH370 is better known," he said.

The Ocean Shield is also carrying an unmanned submersible vehicle which can be used to sonar map and photograph debris on the seafloor if the black box signal is located.

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