Boat carrying Indonesian migrants sinks near Malaysia, killing at least 11
By Hadi Azmi and Mike Ives
At least 11 people were killed and 25 others missing after a boat carrying at least 50 Indonesian migrants sank in the South China Sea before dawn Wednesday, Malaysian officials said.
The boat capsized in bad weather around 4:30 a.m. off the coast of Tanjung Balau, a beach town in the southeastern Malaysian state of Johor, an official with the country’s Maritime Enforcement Agency said. Waves were 12-14 feet high at the time of the accident, he said.
Fourteen people were rescued after the agency deployed a helicopter and two boats for a search-and-rescue operation just before 9 a.m., said the official, Simon Templer Lo, a deputy director in Johor. One of the rescued was in critical condition.
Bernama, Malaysia’s national news agency, posted a photo on Twitter that it said showed people on a beach recovering the capsized boat from the surf.
A spokesman for the Malaysian army’s 3rd Infantry Division later said that all of the passengers onboard were Indonesian. He said they had sailed from the Indonesian island of Batam, which borders the Singapore Strait.
Several survivors said they were from Lombok, an island east of Bali, and had traveled to Batam to enter Malaysia, Simon said. He added that the survivors would be questioned before being deported to Indonesia.
Batam is close enough to Singapore and neighboring Malaysia that until the pandemic it had been connected to the city-state by regular ferry service.
Boat accidents are common in the region, and some have involved Rohingya refugees.
Over the years, thousands of Rohingya people have attempted the perilous crossing by boat to Malaysia from Myanmar, where they face ethnic persecution, or from Bangladesh, where they often live in poverty. They typically head southeast through the Straits of Malacca to Malaysia’s west coast.
Malaysian officials have sometimes prevented such refugee boats from docking. Last year, one of them was rescued by the Bangladeshi coast guard, and officers found hundreds of malnourished and dehydrated people who had been kept in the boat’s hold by human traffickers.