An all-Filipino crew, including the captain, is manning a Norwegian merchant ship that became the first vessel to reach the southern part of the Indian Ocean on Thursday in search of the missing Malaysia Airlines plane.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) yesterday said the local manning agency of Hoegh St. Petersburg confirmed that 20 Filipino seamen comprise its crew.
“The local manning agency of vehicle carrier Hoegh St. Petersburg confirmed that the vessel has joined in the search for flight MH370 upon the request of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA),” DFA spokesman Charles Jose said.
“The vessel is manned by 20 Filipinos. The vessel reports to AMSA directly,” he said.
Haakon Svane, spokesman for shipping company Höegh Autoliners, told The Local, a Norwegian newspaper, that the St. Petersburg was diverted from its path at the request of Australian authorities and spent several hours looking for signs of debris inside a designated 16-nautical-mile area.
Hoegh St. Petersburg was carrying cars from Madagascar to Melbourne when it received a request for assistance from Australian authorities.
The Norwegian Shipowners Association said on Thursday that St. Petersburg changed course to join the search as it was the closest ship in the area where large-sized objects believed to be debris of the missing Malaysia Airlines plane were reportedly found earlier.
The St. Petersburg, built in 2009, joined aircraft and other ships searching the 2,500-km radius off Western Australia, where objects suspected to be from Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 were spotted by satellite.
It was the first ship to arrive in the area, according to a Reuters report.
“The ship has arrived at the site to take part in the search,” said Cecilie Moe, spokeswoman for the Norwegian company.
Any findings by the ship from the area will be reported directly to Australian authorities.
So far, no confirmed wreckage from Flight MH370 has been found since it vanished on March 8, less than an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing with 239 people on board.
Christian Dahll, another spokesperson for Hoegh Autoliners, said no object likely to have come from flight MH370 has been recovered.
Dahll added that the search window for Thursday was limited since sunset was at around 1300 GMT.
“The ship will travel along a route provided by Australian authorities until nightfall,” he said.
“After that, we will assess the situation with the Australian authorities.”
Sturla Henriksen, director general of the Norwegian Shipowners’ Association, said the search area extends over a distance of “60 nautical miles, around 100 kilometers.”
Henriksen told Norwegian public broadcaster NRK that the St. Petersburg, a vehicle carrier, will travel “back and forth (along the route) in the hope of finding what has been identified as debris.”
He added that the ship does not have any capacity to retrieve objects from the sea.
At least seven Chinese ships were to head for the southern Indian Ocean Friday, where possible debris from the missing Malaysia Airlines plane has been sighted, Chinese state media reported.
The official Xinhua news agency said that rescue ships Haixun 01 and 31 and Nanhaijiu 101 and 115 were to depart for the search area.
Three other navy ships were already on their way, it added.
Xinhua also said the Antarctic research icebreaker Xuelong, or Snow Dragon, would head for the area “as soon as possible.”
The Xuelong was anchored in the western Australian port of Fremantle. In January, it took part in the rescue of personnel from a Russian ship stranded in Antarctica.
Australia said Thursday that satellites had captured images of objects in the southern Indian Ocean, with the largest estimated at 24 meters (79 feet) across.
The announcement raised hopes of a breakthrough in the mysterious disappearance of the MH370, but officials cautioned that the apparent sighting needed to be confirmed.