Sea search for migrants missing after boat home to Indonesia sinks in chase

18 missing off Malaysia after vessel overloaded with Indonesians going home for festival sinks

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 July, 2014, 8:49pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 July, 2014, 12:48am


Malaysian authorities were yesterday still searching for nine people missing at sea after an overloaded fishing boat carrying illegal Indonesian migrants capsized. At least two of its occupants drowned.

The fibreglass boat overturned and sank late on Monday with around 70 people on board as a patrol vessel was pursuing it off the state of Johor, said Aminuddin Abdul Rashid, an official with the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency.

Those aboard wanted to sneak out of Malaysia to return to their homes in Indonesia to celebrate the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, he said.

Boat accidents are common in Malaysia, which draws hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants from poorer regional countries who fill mostly low-paid jobs shunned by locals.

Authorities have stepped up patrols along the country's long coastline during Ramadan as many from Indonesia seek to sneak out and return in rickety boats to celebrate Eid ul-Fitr in late July - Islam's biggest festival, which marks the end of the fasting month.

Aminuddin said 59 passengers had been rescued in addition to the two boatmen who were also pulled from the water clinging onto some wood.

According to the boatmen, the vessel was carrying 70 people, he said, adding a man and a woman had died.

"So nine are still missing," Aminuddin said.

He said the boat, which was heading to Batam Island, rammed the agency's patrol vessel three times trying to get away after it was spotted. It suffered damage in the collision and sank three nautical miles off Tanjung Piai, peninsular Malaysia's southernmost point, in strong currents.

Aminuddin said the boatmen were being investigated for smuggling the migrants.

"It's not easy to educate them," he said, referring to the migrants, who are believed to have paid 1,500 ringgit (HK$3,650 each for the dangerous journey.

Activists say the government needs to crack down on agents and employers profiting from illegal labour and corruption among border authorities.

"Unless all this is addressed, this will happen again and again," Aegile Fernandez, of Malaysian migrant labour rights group Tenaganita, said.