Malaysia Airlines flight 370

Media mobs Phu Quoc Island over sightings of flight wreckage

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 March, 2014, 11:43pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 March, 2014, 11:43pm

Vietnam's largest island is known mostly for its tranquil beaches, fishing villages and pearl farms.

But since media reported that wreckage from missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 might have been spied off the Vietnamese coast, Phu Quoc Island has been turned into an international crisis zone.

About 70 journalists from the world over - especially Malaysia, Cambodia, and China - have descended on the island.

Mostly they wait, camping outside the airport until someone passes by wearing a military uniform. Then they give chase for an interview.

Near daily sightings of suspected plane wreckage have turned out to be nothing.

An oil slick spotted on Saturday by the Vietnamese air force was thought to be remnants from the burst tanks of the missing Malaysian airliner. But test results showed that the slick was bunker oil.

On Monday, Hong Kong's Civil Aviation Department said that it had received a report from Cathay Pacific that a flight from Hong Kong to Kuala Lumpur had spotted possible debris in Vung Tau province, the southern part of Vietnam.

Planes were sent to scour the area, finding nothing.

On Tuesday, reports suggested that possible plane wreckage had been spotted 80 kilometres off of Tho Chu Island, near Phu Quoc Island. Again, the deputy transport minister, Pham Quy Tieu, said rescue teams had been sent and nothing found.

To deal with all the questions, the Vietnamese government transformed part of the island's air-traffic-control centre into a command post, where officials offer two press briefings daily.

That means twice daily, the Vietnamese authorities deny media reports that the Beijing-bound plane crashed into Vietnamese waters. Each day, the authorities have pledged to beef up the rescue effort, even though Tieu has said "there is no hope for positive information from the ill-fated plane".

After media reported that Malaysian authorities had tracked Flight MH370 over the Strait of Malacca, the deputy transport minister announced that Vietnam was suspending its part of the search operation.

Malaysia, he said, needed to clarify the new direction of the effort.

"We've asked Malaysian authorities twice, but so far they have not replied to us," Tieu added.

Additional reporting Agence France-Presse