KOTA KINABALU - An Indonesian couple survived 25 hours floating in the sea after their boat with 13 others sank off Tawau on Tuesday.
They desperately clung to their will to survive and swam as much as they could while clutching onto a single life jacket until a villager spotted and rescued them in the second boating tragedy to hit Sabah in two weeks.
Medical sources believe sheer determination had helped them survive the ordeal of spending the night and day in the treacherous waters off Tawau.
They said the two, Budiman Muslimin, 26, and his wife Hasmida Masaniaga, 24, were under close observation at the Tawau hospital as they had swallowed too much salt water and sand as they swam and floated in the waters off Pulau Tinagat.
They said the two also had sand in their eyes and doctors were trying to remove it.
The two were picked up by a villager fishing off the coast of Pantai Batu Payung at about 5.30pm on Wednesday.
Their 57-year-old rescuer, Safar Sehan said he was fishing with friends on the shore when they heard screams for help.
"I saw two people waving and we immediately asked for help from nearby factory workers and borrowed a lifebuoy before jumping into the sea to save them, he said.
Safar later informed the authorities who then launched a search and rescue for the remaining seven missing people from the capsized boat.
The seven-metre long boat fitted with a 200HP engine with 15 Indonesians onboard had reportedly capsized after it was hit by high waves about 10 minutes after they left illegally from Tinagat (Tawau's main land).
They were looking to return to Indonesia via Sungai Nyamuk on Tuesday. The capsizing of the boat was only discovered after the couple were rescued.
So far, six bodies including three children have been recovered by Indonesian rescuers in their waters yesterday, as a massive search continues for those still missing.
Tawau police chief Asst Comm Fadil Marsus said that bodies recovered included that of a man and two women, one of whom was pregnant.
He said that search operations were ongoing for the remaining seven including a baby and a child near Pulau Sebatik off Tawau along the Malaysia-Indonesia border.
ACP Marsus said police had identified several individuals suspected of ferrying people to Indonesia from Tawau illegally.