Death toll in Malaysian boat mishap rises to 24

PHOTO: Reuters

At least 24 Indonesians have drowned, while dozens of others have gone missing after a wooden transport boat sank in Malaysian territorial waters off Sabak Bernam, Selangor, on Thursday morning, according to government officials.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Arrmanatha Nasir said on Friday that 15 Indonesian passengers have been confirmed dead and another 20 have been rescued following the disaster.

The Indonesian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur later confirmed in a press statement that Malaysia's search and rescue team (SAR) had found another nine bodies in the water on Thursday night, bringing the death toll to 24 people. Nineteen of the victims were female.

Local fisherman reported the accident on Thursday at about 10:30 a.m. local time.

All the bodies were taken to Ipoh Hospital for post-mortem examinations and would be repatriated as soon as the verification process was done. Two have been identified by families who came looking for their relatives.

"We are still searching for the remaining victims, as it is thought that there were around 70 to 100 passengers [on board the boat]," Arrmanatha told reporters in Jakarta on Friday.

That same day President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo ordered a probe into the incident.

Other than offering condolences to the family of the victims, the President also instructed officials to continue the search for the remaining passengers.

"I have ordered a search and evacuation operation to find victims. I have also instructed an evaluation of the cross-border mobility of people," Presidential Chief of Staff Teten Masduki said on Friday, quoting Jokowi's instruction.

The Foreign Ministry's director for the protection of Indonesian citizens and entities abroad, Lalu Muhammad Iqbal, announced that the Indonesian Embassy had set up a task force to identify the victims of the accident.

Iqbal said that Malaysia's SAR team, led by the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA), had deployed seven ships from the MMEA, three from the Malaysian Navy and one vessel from the Royal Malaysia Police (PDRM), in addition to three aircraft.

But authorities had found it challenging to identify those who were brought to safety. "We were met with difficulties in our efforts to identify the survivors, as none of them seemed to know one another," Iqbal told reporters on Friday.

The mission in Kuala Lumpur published a press release with the tally of survivors at 20 people, consisting of 19 men and one woman.