KUALA LUMPUR - The Malaysian navy has launched a search for seven crew members after their gunboat went missing off Borneo island in rough seas, a top naval official said Monday.
The incident happened after the vessel set out for a routine sea patrol in the South China Sea on Sunday near Mengalum island off eastern Sabah state on Borneo island.
"Yes, it is true. Please pray for their safety," navy chief Abdul Aziz Jaafar said in a Twitter message when asked about the boat's disappearance.
The navy in a statement said that the missing gunboat was on its way to its operational area in Layang Layang atoll, which is part of the disputed Spratly islands in the South China Sea.
China claims almost all of the sea, a vital avenue for world trade that is also believed to harbour vast oil and gas reserves.
But its claims overlap in parts with those of Malaysia, as well as the Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam and Taiwan.
Abdul Aziz said an intensive search and rescue operation has been launched, but bad weather was hampering the mission.
"Choppy waters and low rain clouds were making search and rescue operation for the combat boat CB204 by ships and the Beechcraft plane difficult," he added.
The gunboat had departed from its base with another fast-attack craft KD Paus early Sunday, the New Straits Times said Monday.
Officials believe it lost contact with the base after being hit by strong waves, according to the newspaper.