(CNN) — Three Bangladeshi navy ships have begun searching the Bay of Bengal for traces of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, but have yet to find anything, a commander said Friday.
The ships are operating off a tip from an Australian company that claims to have found possible traces of an underwater airplane wreck in the area.
“We haven’t found anything yet, and the frigates will continue the search until they verify all available information,” Commodore Rashed Ali, director of Bangladeshi navy intelligence, told CNN on Friday.
Although Australian officials and other experts have derided the claim, acting Malaysian Transportation Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said he, too, is considering sending a ship to search — even though he thinks it is “highly unlikely” the plane will be found in the Bay of Bengal.
Hussein said the tip could be confirmed only by sending vessels to the area, which is thousands of kilometers away from the official search area in the southern Indian Ocean.
“But I just want to stress that by doing that, we are distracting ourselves from the main search,” he said Friday. “And in the event that the result from the search is negative, who is going to be responsible for that loss of time?”
His comments came three days after the Australian company GeoResonance publicized its claim that it may have found the wreckage of a plane in the bay.
While GeoResonance said it’s not sure whether the debris is from Flight 370, the company said it has been pressing officials to take a look.
The chief coordinator of the international search effort said he doubts GeoResonance’s claims.
“I am confident that the area in the southern (Indian) Ocean is the right search area, and I’m sure that in … some time, we’ll find the aircraft in that area of the Indian Ocean,” chief coordinator Angus Houston said Friday.
Houston said the search for the plane, which was carrying 239 people when it disappeared on March 8, may take eight to 12 months.
Next phase of the search
The Bluefin-21 drone finished its 18th underwater mission and found no debris of interest on the Indian Ocean floor, search officials said Friday.
The drone’s search area was set based on the findings of another device, a towed pinger locator, which had detected signals that officials believed were from the jet’s flight data recorders.
But no debris from the plane has been found.
The search is entering a new phase, Hishammuddin said Friday. He said officials have had detailed talks with several Malaysian companies about deploying specialized assets such as deep-water towed side-scan sonars and remotely operated vehicles to join in the new phase of the mission.
Families told to go home
After nearly two months of waiting at Beijing’s Lido Hotel, relatives of Chinese passengers said Friday they’ve been told to leave.
“Chinese officials asked the family members to leave the hotel by 6 p.m. today,” said Wang Yong Zhi, whose wife was on Flight 370. “We don’t have a choice.”
More than 100 of the plane’s passengers are Chinese, and the hotel has been a sentimental and informational hub for their families. Malaysia Airlines officials have been briefing families at the Lido over the past several weeks.
On Thursday, some relatives wailed and yelled when the airline announced it was closing such assistance centers.
“Instead of staying in hotels, the families of MH370 are advised to receive information updates on the progress of the search and investigation and other support by Malaysia Airlines within the comfort of their own homes, with the support and care of their families and friends,” the airline said in a news release.
The hotel has seen an increased police and government presence over the past few days. Media have been barred from broadcasting within the hotel complex.
“What can we do?” one relative yelled as others kneeled in front of police.
Wang said family members signed a letter, left fingerprints and agreed that a committee representing the families would continue working with Malaysia Airlines and the government on issues such as compensation.
Under an international treaty known as the Montreal Convention, the airline must pay relatives of each deceased passenger an initial sum of around $150,000 to $175,000. Relatives of victims can also sue for further damages.
Malaysia Airlines said Thursday it would begin making advance compensation to the Flight 370 passengers’ next of kin to help with their immediate economic needs. But the airline didn’t say how much of an advance the families would receive.
Sarah Bajc, the American partner of Flight 370 passenger Philip Wood, said she was one of about 500 people at the Lido Hotel meeting Thursday.
She said Chinese relatives had told her they dreaded the day that the hotel centers would close, fearing they wouldn’t get timely updates at their rural homes.
“They are very distraught, because the average Chinese family member will be sent home to mostly a very rural place with limited access to (the) Internet,” she said. “They just feel like all lines of communications will be cut.”
But some family members don’t mind leaving the hotel.
“Nothing has changed for me, because living in Lido and living back home is the same to me,” said Steve Wang, a relative of one of the passengers.
“We will move on to the next stage, and we will still keep on fighting for the truth and where the plane is and where our loved one is. We will keep on with it. We will never give up.”
By Holly Yan and David McKenzie
CNN’s Mitra Mobasherat and Elizabeth Joseph and journalist Farid Ahmed contributed to this report.