The St Petersburg, a ship owned by the Norwegian company Höegh Autoliners, has arrived at the suspected crash site. Photo: Höegh Autoliners
St Petersburg, a hulking cargo carrier with a deadweight tonnage of 27,352 tonnes, capable of carrying nearly 8,000 cars, arrived on the scene just after 9am Norwegian time, giving it nearly four hours of daylight with which to search visually for debris before the sun sets at 1pm Norwegian time.
The Filipino captain, contacted on the ship by Sweden's Aftonbladet newspaper, said that he and his crew had yet to spot any debris by the time dark fell.
"Nothing at the moment," he said. "We have aircraft doing a search also in the air, and we are both in contact. Anybody of us, who can look for these significant sightings, we can report to each other."
He said that poor visibility was also hampering the search. "There are some fog patches. The visibility is poor at times. Every mile or two there are fog patches," he said.
Ingar Skiaker, chief executive of Höegh Autoliners said that diverting the ship in order to help was in keeping with Norwegian maritime tradition.
"We as a shipping nation have a culture of assisting whenever there is suspicion of people in distress," he said. "We got a call from the Australian rescue and search centre two days ago, asking the ship to move from its original course to a defined area to look for the observations they had received. The ship responded positively to it."
Olav Sollie, vice president of communications for the company, told Norway's VG newspaper that the St. Petersburg had been on its way to Perth when it was diverted south to look for the aircraft.
"The ship was en route from South Africa to Perth in Australia and was asked to go further south in the Indian Ocean to the current exploration area," he said. "Our mission is to be the eyes and ears in the area and to look for things in the water. We are doing this from the ship with our crews using binoculars and radars. This is coordinated with the Australian authorities and aircraft in the area."
Haakon Svane, a spokesman for the Norwegian Shipowners Association, told The Local that the ship's crew had already spent more than three hours combing the sea's surface.
"For the past three and half hours they have been inside a 60-nautical-mile area at the request of the Australian authorities," he said. "So its basically locating the debris visually that has been spotted by satellite already. We expect this to take a little bit of time. We also expect that other vessels will join the search."
After two weeks of false leads, Australia revived the investigation on the mysterious disappearance of flight MH370 when it announced the detection four days ago of two large "objects" in the southern Indian Ocean, some 2,500 kilometres (1,553 miles) southwest of Perth in western Australia.
Malaysia's government on Thursday described the objects as a "credible lead" in the hunt for a plane which has now been missing for 12 days, its 239 passengers largely believed to be dead.
"It is hard to understand if the plane is there," Roger Handeland, an expert from the Norwegian aircraft technician Organisation told Norway's NRK channel. "If it turns out that the objects do belong to the Malaysia Airlines flight, it may indicate that the plane turned and flew almost in the opposite direction to where it was going. The aircraft must have been in the air for six, seven hours after the last confirmed position, and probably ran out of fuel."
Australian officials say it could take several days to ascertain if the objects are indeed remnants from the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777.