KOTA KINABALU: The owner and skipper of the catamaran that sank last Saturday were charged with causing death by negligence.
Skipper Sharezza Salian, 25, pleaded guilty at the Sessions Court here to the charge while no plea was recorded from the owner, Leong Vin Jee, 44, as he needed a Chinese interpreter.
Judge Ainul Shahrin Mohamed sentenced Sharezza to six months' jail. Leong was asked to return for a re-mention tomorrow.
Sharezza and Leong were accused of overloading the catamaran with tourists at about 9.15am on Jan 28.
They allegedly allowed the catamaran, which could only seat 12 passengers to leave a jetty at Tanjung Aru Lama with 28, thereby posing risks to the lives of the Chinese tourists.
Sharezza asked for a lenient sentence as he was poor and had to look after his parents. He is the third of eight siblings.
Leong was allowed bail of RM5,000 (S$1,600) in one surety and should report to the Tanjung Aru police station on the 15th day of every month.
Defence counsel Edward Paul, in asking for the bail sum to be lowered, said Leong was married with two children, and had co-operated with the police the moment he was asked to surrender at the police station. There was also no reason for him to abscond, he added.
Edward said the purpose of the bail was not to be punitive but to secure his presence in court.
For the sentencing of Sharezza, Deputy Public Prosecutor Aida Fatimah Abdul Jabar asked for a maximum sentence as public interest outweighed that of the accused's.
She said that he endangered other people's lives and that a maximum sentence was to deter others, especially boat operators and workers, from operating against what was stated in their licence.
Meanwhile, Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Ramli Din said the guide who was rescued with the skipper in the tragedy will be one of the key witnesses to the court case.
Aman Abdul, 38, who was arrested together with a crewman following their rescue on Jan 29, will be released from police remand once the order expires today.
The crewman is a Filipino national holding the IMM13 immigration travel document issued to war refugees.
"The DPP has decided not to charge this man but to make him a witness," he said yesterday.
The catamaran sank at about 10am after departing the Tanjung Aru jetty an hour earlier. The search effort began immediately after the company operating the vessel reported the incident to the authorities 12 hours after the incident.
Twenty of the Chinese tourists survived the 32-hour ordeal at sea, while at least three died.