According to the Xinhua news agency, they also saw two “relatively big” objects with “many white smaller ones” scattered over several kilometres.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (Amsa), which is coordinating the search, said it “was advised about” the reports which came as different Malaysia Airlines flight, this one carrying 271 passengers from Kuala Lumpur to Seoul, made an emergency landing in Hong Kong following a generator failure.

Efforts to locate debris which could be parts of the MH370 plane are focusing on an area some 2,500 kilometres off the coast of Perth.

On Sunday, French officials said radar echoes from a satellite also identified possible debris.

The objects identified by the French were “about 850 kilometres north of our current search area”, Warren Truss, Australia’s acting prime minister while Tony Abbott is abroad, told Australian broadcaster ABC.

MH370 went missing on 8 March after leaving Kuala Lumpur for Beijing, with 239 people on board.

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