KUALA LUMPUR - Rescuers were searching for some 40 Indonesians including women and children on Saturday after a boat carrying them home to celebrate the end of the Islamic fasting month sank off Malaysia.
Two ships, four speedboats and two helicopters have been dispatched to scour the sea off southern Johor state to look for the missing, said Amran Daud, an official with the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA).
The boat, thought to be carrying 44 passengers, sank Thursday night, he said, adding four were rescued on Friday.
It is thought the Indonesians chose to travel by the rickety boat because they were working illegally in Malaysia and wished to bypass border controls on their trip home.
The boat sank roughly three hours into its journey to Indonesia's Batam island with its passengers hoping to return for Eid al-Fitr, the most important Muslim holiday, Amran said.
"The condition of the boat was believed to be questionable," Amran said, adding that authorities were still investigating the cause of the incident.
Three of the survivors were rescued by passing fishermen, while another was saved by authorities who started search and rescue efforts after being alerted by the fisherman.
"Only four of those on board were rescued by fishermen and MMEA after floating 15 hours in the sea," Amran said, adding the four men, aged between 26 and 31, have been hospitalised.
Boating accidents off Malaysia's coast are common as thousands of people from poorer regional neighbours, such as Indonesia and Myanmar, risk journeys in rickety boats to come to work illegally in the relatively affluent country.
They fill low-paying jobs shunned by locals such as on plantations, construction sites and in factories.
Many Indonesians try to leave the country during Ramadan to return home to celebrate Eid al-Fitr with their families.
Authorities said last month they were beefing up patrols to prevent illegal immigrants from making the sea voyage across the waterway separating Malaysia and Indonesia.
An Indonesian women died and seven people went missing after their wooden boat overturned in mid-July, also off Johor state and heading to Batam island.
That boat smuggling them out of the country suffered an engine failure. Twenty-seven people were rescued.