20 Chinese tourists pulled from sea after boat sinks off coast of Borneo, Malaysia

Six people remain missing in waters off Borneo, minister says, as search continues amid bad weather

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 January, 2017, 11:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 22 January, 2018, 4:20pm

Malaysian rescuers on Sunday found 20 Chinese tourists and two crew members alive after their boat sank in rough seas off the coast of Borneo a day earlier, officials said.

Three people aboard the boat were confirmed to have died, while five Chinese tourists and one ­Malaysian crew member were still missing.

Admiral Ahmad Kamarulzaman Ahmad Badaruddin, chief of the Malaysian navy, said in a tweet that the three dead were tourists and another Chinese was still missing. He described the outcome as the “best news in a worst-case scenario.”

The catamaran failed to arrive at popular tourist spot Mengalum Island after departing Kota Kinabalu, the capital of eastern Sabah state, on Saturday morning.

The Malaysian skipper, rescued along with a crew member, told the authorities the boat sank after being damaged in turbulent waters.

“According to the skipper, the boat was ‘broken’ after being hit by strong waves, and sank. All the tourists were tied together and were carried away by the currents,” Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency director-general Ahmad Puzi Ab Kahar told a news conference in Kota Kinabalu.

Ahmad Puzi said authorities were investigating the sinking of the catamaran and whether it should have been used as a tourist vessel. The Sabah government allows catamarans to carry a maximum of 12 people, including the crew and skipper.

“We will deploy search assets that can operate at night, and continue our rescue operations to locate those who are still missing,” Malaysia’s National Security Minister Shahidan Kassim said.

There were children on the missing boat but I don’t know how many
Arwin Musbir

“The weather conditions were also quite bad with very high waves, which raises the question as to whether the boat should have gone out to sea,” he said. The navy, maritime police and air force were involved in the search, which covered 400 nautical miles.

The Chinese consulate in Kota Kinabalu said multiple survivors “were reported drifting at sea waiting for rescue,” Xinhua reported. Chinese state television said the crew reported helping passengers put on life jackets as the boat was sinking, then tried to look for help.

Premier Li Keqiang urged Malaysia to step up the rescue effort. “Not a single person can be missed,” he was quoted by state-run CCTV as saying.

President Xi Jinping called on the foreign ministry to step up communications with Malaysian authorities.

He also ordered China’s tourism authorities to be well planned for emergencies, saying the Lunar New Year period was the peak season for travelling, CCTV reported.

A boat skipper claimed he last saw the missing catamaran in waters near Pulau Sapi Saturday. Arwin Musbir, 24, said he was carrying 32 Chinese aboard his boat and left Tanjung Aru at the same time as the missing boat.

“We were heading to Mengalum island and were ahead of them. As we passed Sapi island, I could no longer see the boat, “ he said. The boat never arrived at Mengalum and he only realised something was amiss after he asked other skippers about the boat on his way back to Tanjung Aru.

Fearing the worst, Arwin said he informed the company’s boss. “There were children on the missing boat but I don’t know how many,” he added.

A sister of one of the passengers, Shen Haotian, said five members of her family were on the vessel.

“There was no GPS signal from the boat, and I lost contact with my family members. I kept calling them yesterday, but their phones were all switched off,” the sister was quoted as saying by Shanghai-based news portal Thepaper.cn.

“The tour agency was not aware of the accident, saying they had no report from their Malaysian counterparts, until 1am.”

Reuters, Agence France-Presse, New Straits Times