PERTH/CANBERRA - Australia's prime minister said on Sunday there was "increasing hope" of a breakthrough in the hunt for a missing Malaysian airliner carrying 239 people, after Chinese satellite images showed what could be debris within a search area deep in the southern Indian Ocean.
The latest possible lead came as the search for Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 entered its third week, with still no confirmed trace of the Boeing 777.
An international force resumed its search efforts on Sunday, zeroing in on two areas some 2,500 km (1,500 miles) southwest of Perth in an effort to find the object identified by China and other small debris including a wooden pallet spotted by a search plane on Saturday.
"New Chinese satellite imagery does seem to suggest at least one large object down there, consistent with the object that earlier satellite imagery discovered," Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott told reporters in Papua New Guinea, where he is on a visit.
"Obviously we have now had a number of very credible leads and there is increasing hope, no more than hope, that we might be on the road to discovering what did happen."
The new Chinese discovery was dramatically announced by Malaysia's acting transport minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, on Saturday after he was handed a note with details during a news conference in Kuala Lumpur.
China said the object was 22 meters long (74ft) and 13 meters (43ft) wide, and spotted around 120 km (75 miles) "south by west" of potential debris reported by Australia off its west coast in the forbidding waters of the southern Indian Ocean.
The new image was captured early on March 18, China's State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence (SASTIND) said on its website.
It could not easily be determined from the blurred images whether the objects were the same as those detected by Australia, but the Chinese photograph could depict a cluster of smaller objects, said a senior military officer from one of the 26 nations involved in the search for the plane.
The wing of a Boeing 777-200ER is approximately 27 meters long and 14 meters wide at its base, according to estimates derived from publicly available scale drawings. Its fuselage is 63.7 meters long by 6.2 meters wide.
Flight MH370 vanished from civilian radar screens early on March 8, less than an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur on a scheduled flight to Beijing.