Crew aboard Australia's defence vessel Ocean Shield move the US Navy's Bluefin-21 autonomous underwater vehicle into position for deployment in the southern Indian Ocean. Picture: Australian Defence Force, via Reuters

Sydney -

The Indian Ocean search for the missing Malaysia Airlines jet continued on Tuesday after a week of painstakingly slow sonar scanning of the targeted patch of seabed has so far failed to yield a single piece of wreckage.

Up to 10 planes and as many ships will scour the ocean surface for debris on Tuesday over an area covering 50 000 square kilometres centred 1 600km north-west of the Australian west coast city of Perth, the search co-ordination centre said in a statement.

Searchers will contend with scattered rain showers and swells of up to three metres.

A robotic submarine was on Tuesday continuing its ninth 16-hour mission scanning the silt-covered seafloor since the search for wreckage shifted beneath the waves on April 14.

The centre said the US Navy's Bluefin 21 had so far covered about two-thirds of the 310-square-kilometre seabed search zone, creating a three-dimensional sonar map of any debris. Nothing of interest had been found.

The 4.5km-deep search area is a circle 20km wide where searchers calculated a suspected black box beacon heard on April 8 is probably located. The Boeing 777's beacons were only designed to transmit signals for 30 days after a crash and their batteries are now assumed dead.

The search co-ordination centre said the sonar scan of the seafloor in that area was expected to be completed sometime this week.

Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein has said that even if no debris was recovered, the scope of the search may be broadened or other assets may be used.

Radar and satellite data show the jet carrying 239 passengers and crew veered far off course on March 8 for unknown reasons during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Analysis indicates it would have run out of fuel in the remote section of ocean where the search has been focused. Not one piece of debris has been recovered since the massive multi-national hunt began.

There have been numerous leads, but all have turned out to be false. The most promising development came when four underwater signals were detected April 5 and 8. The sounds were consistent with pings that would have been emanating from the plane's flight data and cockpit recorders' beacons before their batteries died. - Sapa-AP