Maldives join hunt for MH370 after debris sighting claims

French gendarmes and police inspect a large piece of plane debris which was found on the beach in Saint-Andre, on the Indian Ocean island of Reunion.
PHOTO: Reuters

COLOMBO - The Maldives joined a regional search for wreckage from missing flight MH370 following reports that islanders in the Indian ocean atoll nation had spotted unidentified debris, police said Sunday.

Maldivian police are responding to several sightings of debris washed up along the northern atolls of the archipelago, some of which occurred about a month ago, a police spokesman said.

Authorities were alerted to the sightings yesterday.

"There is new attention to these sightings after the discovery at Reunion," the spokesman said referring to a wing part found in late July on the French territory located 2,000 miles (3,200 kilometres) south-west of the Maldives.

After that discovery, the Malaysian authorities alerted nearby Madagascar and the South African coast as possible locations for debris to wash up. The Indian Ocean nation of Mauritius has also joined the search.

Mohamed Shareef, a minister at the Maldivian President's office, said officials were working closely with the Malaysian aviation authorities in seeking to identify any possible debris from the missing aircraft.

"We are collecting any unidentified debris and storing them in a warehouse so that the Malaysians can carry out tests and determine if it is from their plane or not," Shareef told AFP by telephone.

"We ourselves are not doing any testing, but we have sent photographs of what we found and await their response." Local media reports said the biggest piece of debris, an eight by two feet long panel, had washed up a few days earlier and it appeared to be material used in resort construction.

However, the authorities were preserving it to be examined by foreign experts.

Shareef said the Maldives had shared defence radar and surveillance data with Malaysia following reports last year that an unidentified airliner had been seen flying low over some of the islets shortly after the MH370 went missing.

"We checked radar data and other information from that day and the answer was negative. There was no big jet liner over that area and we shared that information with the Malaysian authorities," Shareef said.

The Boeing 777 disappeared on March 8 last year, sparking the largest multinational search operation in history, now focused on the southern Indian Ocean based on satellite data hinting at the plane's path.

See also: More stories on the search for MH370