Malaysia missing plane: China widens ship search

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Media captionRelatives were forcibly removed while trying to speak to journalists at a news conference in Kuala Lumpur

China has deployed ships to search new areas for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane, as Thailand said its radars may have tracked the flight shortly after it lost contact.

China has sent nine ships to waters south-east of the Bay of Bengal and west of Indonesia.

Teams from 26 countries are trying to find flight MH370, which went missing on 8 March with 239 people on board.

The entire search area is now roughly the size of Australia.

Malaysia says the plane, which was flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, was intentionally diverted and could have flown on either a northern or southern arc from its last known position in the Malacca Straits.

Investigators are looking into the possibility that the aircraft's crew - or other individuals on the plane - were involved in its disappearance.

The Chinese vessels set off from Singapore early on Wednesday, to search an area of around 300,000 sq km (116,000 sq miles), state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

The ships would focus on waters near Sumatra, away from regions being searched by other countries, it added.

'Grave fears'

On Tuesday, China began searching its territory along the northern arc for the aircraft, following a request from the Malaysian authorities.

However, Foreign Minister spokesman Hong Lei said on Wednesday that China had not yet found any sign that the plane entered its territory, Reuters reported.

Australia is leading efforts along the southern arc in the Indian Ocean.

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Media captionThe BBC's Jonah Fisher faced a wall of police when trying to speak to relatives after the news conference in Kuala Lumpur

However, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (Amsa) said on Wednesday that neither military aircraft deployed on the search, nor merchant ships transiting through the area, had seen anything in connection to the aircraft.

"It is a challenging search operation and Amsa continues to hold grave fears for the passengers and crew on board the missing flight," Amsa said.

Meanwhile, Thailand's air force said on Tuesday a re-examination of its radar data found what may have been the plane travelling west towards the Malacca Straits at 01:28 Malaysia time, shortly after it lost contact with air traffic controllers.

This would be consistent with Malaysia's military radar, which spotted the plane over the Malacca Straits - the opposite direction from its planned flight path - early on 8 March.

Thai air force spokesman Montol Suchookorn said that the plane did not enter Thai air space and he could not confirm whether it was flight MH370.

Thai radar later spotted the plane heading north and disappearing over the Andaman Sea, AFP reported, citing the spokesman.

The Thai military had previously said it had not detected any sign of the aircraft.

Dragged away

On Thursday, there were reports that residents in the Maldives saw a "low-flying airplane" above Kuda Huvadhoo island the day the plane vanished.

However, Malaysian authorities said they had spoken to Maldives officials, and determined that the reports were untrue.

The entire search area is now 2.24m square nautical miles (7.68m sq km).

Several countries, including Australia, the US, New Zealand, Korea, Japan and the UAE have committed planes and ships to the search and rescue effort.

Meanwhile, there was a disturbance as two relatives of passengers were dragged away from journalists ahead of the daily press briefing in Kuala Lumpur.

The relatives had been trying to speak to reporters before the briefing began.

Relatives of the passengers have become increasingly frustrated with the lack of information.

Wen Wancheng, whose 33-year-old son Wen Yongsheng was one of 153 Chinese nationals on the plane, told the BBC in Beijing: "We think the Malaysian government is not doing enough work.

"The airline hasn't given us a satisfactory answer and the Malaysian officials are not here with us. If this situation continues, we will consider taking actions such as staging a protest."