KOTA KINABALU - The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) is racing against time to locate 18 people after their catamaran capsized at about 8pm off Pulau Mantanani on Thursday.
Twelve of the 18, who are currently clinging onto the catamaran that capsized, are tourists from China, while four are crew.
Two locals had also hitched a ride on the boat.
Three MMEA vessels are in the area and are communicating with the crew of the catamaran.
All 18 are currently together.
Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency Sabah and Labuan regional director First Admiral Mohd Zubil Mat Som said that their patrol boats were already in the area but were finding it difficult to locate the capsized boat.
"We were in telephone communication with the crew and we advised them to put on their life jackets and tie themselves to each other with ropes so they do not drift apart," he said when contacted at 11pm.
He declined to comment further on the incident, as rescue operations are ongoing.
It is learned that the catamaran originally carried 34 people when it left the Mantanani island resort at 3pm on Thursday before it sprung a leak at 4pm.
Sixteen tourists were taken back to the resort by other boats before weather conditions worsened, making it difficult for smaller boats to operate in the area.
Pulau Mantanani is about an hour's boat ride from Kota Belud, which is about 90km from Kota Kinabalu.
The island is a popular snorkelling and swimming spot for tourists.