The Maldives has launched a search operation for the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 after debris was found on the island nation's shores, authorities said Sunday. A multinational search is underway for the missing plane in and around the island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean, after a wingflap was found there late last month.
Police in Maldives responded to several sightings of debris, which were suspected to be from a plane, over the weekend, the Guardian reported. However, officials have not yet confirmed if the objects are from an airplane. The news of debris sightings on Maldives follows the discovery of other objects on Reunion Island that could be linked to the missing plane.
"There is a new attention to these sightings after the discovery at Reunion," a police spokesperson in Maldives reportedly said, referring to the part of a wing from a Boeing airplane -- confirmed by Malaysian authorities to be from Flight MH370 -- that was found on the French island, on July 29.
"We are collecting any unidentified debris and storing them in a warehouse so that the Malaysians can carry out tests and determine if it's from their plane or not. We ourselves are not doing any testing, but we have sent photographs of what was found and await their response," said Maldivian lawmaker Mohamed Shareef.
The discovery of the flaperon on Reunion Island that other officials involved in the search have not yet confirmed to be from the missing plane, has shifted the focus of the search operation, which has so far been concentrated in the southern Indian Ocean, about 2,300 miles east of Reunion Island.
Malaysian officials confirmed that the wreckage was from Flight MH370, but Australian and French authorities have only said that it is from a Boeing 777, the same type as the missing plane, and that its origin is yet to be determined. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau, which is leading the search for the plane, reviewed its analysis and said that the discovery of the flaperon at Réunion, nearly 17 months after the disappearance of MH370, "is consistent with the current underwater search area in the southern Indian Ocean."
Malaysia, which asked for assistance from Maldives after the discovery of the debris, has also appealed to the governments of Mauritius, about 140 miles northeast of Reunion, and Madagascar, to help widen the search.
Flight MH370 went missing on March 8, 2014, with 239 people, mostly Chinese nationals, on board, while on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. An international search operation, which has become the costliest in aviation history, has been ongoing since the plane's disappearance, with vessels scouring 46,332 square miles of the southern Indian Ocean.
"At this stage, it is highly premature to speculate on whether this debris is in any way connected to MH370,” Malaysia’s transport ministry said, about the debris found in Maldives, in a statement. “I urge all parties to allow for the verification process to take its course. Undue speculation will only stress the families and loved ones, anxiously awaiting news on this matter.”