MELBOURNE, Australia — A freighter and planes searched the rough seas of one of the remotest places on Earth for a missing Malaysia plane, following up on what Malaysia authorities said was the “best lead” thus far for the location of the jet.

Australian satellite images detected large pieces of debris floating about 1,000 miles off the coast of Australia and halfway to the desolate islands of the Antarctic. A search in the southern Indian Ocean was halted Thursday because of bad weather and nightfall.

China said Friday it is sending three warships to join the search. It gave no indication when they might arrive at the site west of Australia.

The objects seen in the satellite photos are “of reasonable size and probably awash with water,” John Young, general manager of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, said at a press conference in Canberra, Australia’s capital, on Thursday.

“This is a lead, it’s probably the best lead we have right now,” Young said. He cautioned that the objects could be seaborne debris along a shipping route where containers can fall off cargo vessels, although the larger object is longer than a container.

Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 went missing early March 8 with 239 passengers and crew aboard a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

But another analyst said the debris is most likely not pieces of the missing Boeing 777 jetliner, and that this could be the latest in a string of false leads since the plane disappeared.

“The chances of it being debris from the airplane are probably small, and the chances of it being debris from other shipping are probably large,” said Jason Middleton, an aviation professor at the University of New South Wales in Sydney.

A Norwegian merchant ship was the first vessel on the scene in a tight, 16-nautical- mile area 1,550 miles southwest of Perth, Australia, where authorities believe the possible debris was floating. Search planes were also sent to the vicinity and other ships were en route.

Australian authorities asked the St. Petersburg merchant ship, which was en route to Perth, to take a more southerly approach two days ago to the search site, officials of the Norwegian shipping company Höegh Autoliners told the Norwegian newspaperVG.

source: usatoday