China splits search-and-rescue fleet as hunt for missing Flight 370 leads into vast Indian Ocean
Country dividing South China Sea assets to search waters off Andaman Islands and Sumatra to find plane that had 154 Chinese on board
Minnie Chan and Stephen Chen
China is splitting up its southern search-and-rescue fleet to comb two far-flung sections of the Indian Ocean for the vanished Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.
One flotilla of civilian and military ships would head northwest to the Bay of Bengal, while the other would steam south to Sumatra and Christmas Island, PLA Navy spokesman Liang Yang said in a statement on Tuesday.
Malaysian authorities said on Sunday that the plane’s last satellite contact – at 8.11am on March 8 – revealed it flew for more than seven hours after disappearing from civilian radar over the South China Sea near the Gulf of Thailand.
Two flight corridors are now the focus of the search – one extending from northern Thailand to Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, and a southern corridor from Indonesia to the southern Indian Ocean.
“There are major changes in our search strategy and plans due to the changing situation. The forces will head in two opposite directions, one northward and the other southward, starting today,” a public relations official at the China Maritime Search and Rescue Centre in Beijing told the South China Morning Post.
Four Chinese ships – the Jinggangshan, a 20,000-tonne advanced amphibious dock landing ship; the Yongxingdao, a submarine rescue ship; the Haixun 31, a coastguard patrol ship; and the South China Sea Rescue 115, of the Transport Ministry – would search a 120,000-square-kilometre area in the Bay of Bengal, Xinhua said. They would be joined by three helicopters in the search area west of the Andaman Islands.
The second flotilla – the Kunlunshan, another amphibious ship; the Haikou, a fast missile destroyer; the Haixun 01, the South China Sea Rescue 101; and a container ship operated by state-owned shipping giant Cosco – would focus on a 180,000-square-kilometre band of sea southwest of Sumatra and Java. It too would be assisted by three helicopters.
The supply ship Qiandaohu would also sail to Sumatra and Java to join that group after it resupplies other vessels in Singaporean waters, Xinhua added.
China so far has sent 10 ships to take part in the search and recue mission, including five PLA Navy warships and five civilian and commercial ships.
The PLA Daily said the Chinese fleet searching the Gulf of Thailand during the past week was heading to Singapore for regrouping and preparations before sailing to the two new search locations. The five navy ships were replenished in the South China Sea on Monday afternoon, PLA Daily reported yesterday.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said yesterday that China had deployed 21 satellites to search for the missing Malaysia Airlines jet that was carrying 239 passengers and crew, including 154 Chinese.