Royal Australian Air Force Loadmasters Sgt. Adam Roberts, left, and Flight Sgt. John Mancey, launch a Self-Locating Data Marker Buoy from a C-130J Hercules aircraft in the southern Indian Ocean as part of the Australian Defence Force's assistance to the search for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370. Picture: AP Photo/Australian Defence Department, Justin Brown

China has dispatched a flotilla of warships to waters off Perth as part of the extraordinary international mission to find missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370.

The development came as Tony Abbott yesterday sought to wind back expectations that the plane might be found off Australia, admitting objects spotted by satellite could be a sea container or other floating rubbish.

Australian, US and New Zealand aircraft continued searching the ocean more than 2500km south-west of Perth yesterday in the hope of finding any trace of the vanished Boeing 777.

The Prime Minister made the shock announcement in Parliament on Thursday that objects possibly related to the search for the jet had been picked up by satellite.

His words focused the world's attention on the Australian search zone and raised hopes the mystery of the missing jet would soon be solved.

Speaking in Papua New Guinea yesterday, Mr Abbott appeared less certain parts of the 777 had been found.

"Now, it could just be a container that has fallen off a ship," he said.

"We just don't know but we owe it to the families and the friends and the loved ones of the almost 240 people on Flight MH370 to do everything we can to try to resolve what is as yet an extraordinary riddle."

Mr Abbott defended his decision to go public with the information about the satellite image.

"Because of the understandable state of anxiety and apprehension that they're in, we also owe it to them to give them information as soon as it's to hand," he said.

Five aircraft and a Norwegian cargo ship were scouring the search zone in the southern Indian Ocean yesterday.

Another merchant ship and HMAS Success were also on the way to the area.

In a surprise move, the Chinese Government said it had sent three warships - the Kunlunshan, the Haikou and the Qiandaohu - to the search zone.

The ships had been scouring waters off Malaysia and Indonesia. Chinese media said Beijing would send another four smaller "rescue vessels" to the southern Indian Ocean.

The Chinese icebreaker Snow Dragon left Fremantle for the search area last night.

Its crew spent the day loading stores in readiness for a 6pm departure, according to Fremantle Ports.

Most of the 239 passengers and crew aboard the Malaysia Airways flight were Chinese citizens.

Mr Abbott said on Thursday night he had spoken to Chinese President Xi Jinping, who was devastated by the mystery.

"This has been a gut-wrenching business for so many people, not least those who are charged with the responsibility of keeping their citizens safe," Mr Abbott said.

During the phone call, Mr Xi told Mr Abbott that China would like to contribute to the Australia-led international search effort.

Mr Abbott said the contribution would be welcome.

The Kunlunshan is a modern amphibious transport ship, the Haikou is a destroyer and the Qiandaohu is a refuelling ship.

A commercial Global Express corporate jet chartered by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority joined the search for the missing plane yesterday.

The Norwegian car carrier Hoegh St Petersburg used its search lights during the night to try to locate the debris identified by the satellite imagery.

It is expected that the sea conditions will improve over the weekend, which will help the search.

However, if the debris is from Flight MH370, it may have drifted more than 500km from the crash site, according to Perth oceanographer Chari Pattiaratchi.

Speaking to the ABC, Professor Pattiaratchi added that the ocean was up to 5km deep in the area.

Malaysian crash investigators arrived in Perth yesterday.

with Agencies

The West Australian

Popular videos

Compare & Save

Our Picks

Compare & Save

Follow Us

More from The West