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Australia's prime minister said Sunday he was hopeful clues will emerge soon to help find Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 even though searchers again failed to find jet debris, as relatives of Chinese passengers on the plane protested in Malaysia to demand the government apologize over its handling of the search.
An increasing number of ships are scouring an area of the Indian Ocean off western Australia after a new search zone was identified Friday, but the only objects scooped up by the vessels so far have been "fishing equipment and other flotsam'' not connected to the Malaysia Airlines plane that crashed March 8 with 239 people on board, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said in a statement.
Australian Navy Commodore Peter Leavy told reporters that "there has been no discrete debris associated with the flight.''
In Sydney, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott insisted that the "intensifying search effort'' was positive because objects ``have been recovered from the ocean'' in the zone after a weeklong search in another area spotted items from planes that ships never managed to find.
The maritime safety authority said nine planes took part in the search Sunday, leaving in staggered times from a military base near the western city of Perth. Eight ships were on the scene, including the Australian navy supply ship HMAS Success, which was designated as the vessel that will store any wreckage found.
Leavy said the operation in the new search zone is complicated because it lies in a shipping lane where sea trash is common.
Searchers were hampered by rain and low clouds, but were still able to look for signs of plane debris with visibility of about 10 kilometers (6 miles). It takes planes about 2 1/2 hours to get to the area, giving them five hours of searching time before they must return to base.
Objects spotted so far include three with white, red and orange colors by a Chinese Ilyushin IL-76 plane, China's official Xinhua News Agency said. The missing Boeing 777's exterior was red, white, blue and gray.
In Malaysia, several dozen Chinese relatives of passengers of Flight 370 demanded that the Malaysian government apologize for its handling of the search for the plane and for the prime minister's announcement that it crashed into the southern Indian Ocean before any wreckage was found.
The group staged its protest at a hotel near Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia's largest city, hours after flying in from Beijing, waving banners