PORT KLANG: More than 40 people are missing after a boat ferrying illegal immigrants on their way home to Indonesia from here capsized off Sabak Bernam.
The bodies of 15 passengers were found in the sea about nine nautical miles southwest of Tanjung Sauh, where the incident happened.
Some fishermen saved 19 passengers from the “pom-pom boat”, a wooden vessel about 40ft to 50ft long, which was carrying about 70 to 80 passengers when it capsized early yesterday.
Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) Klang chief First Admiral Mohd Aliyas Hamdan said the Indonesia-registered boat could have been overloaded and that most of the passengers were suspected to be illegal immigrants.
He said the passengers were heading home for the Hari Raya Haji celebration. The boat left in the wee hours from Kuala Sungai Bernam and was headed for Tanjung Balai in Indonesia.
Among the dead were 13 women and two men, he said.
Mohd Aliyas said the first body was found at 10.37am and the rest by 9.15pm. The bodies and survivors were sent to the Teluk Intan Hospital in Perak.
There was no information on the crew of the boat.
Search and rescue teams were looking for the missing passengers, Mohd Aliyas told reporters at the MMEA base in Tanjung Harapan.
He said the MMEA was still trying to find out exactly how many people were aboard the boat.
An operations base had been set up at the Sungai Sumun jetty in Hutan Melintang, Perak, he said.
In Petaling Jaya, MMEA deputy director-general (operations) Vice-Admiral Datuk Ahmad Puzi Ab Kahar said four Royal Malaysian Navy ships, three boats, two agency aircraft and an RMAF C-130 plane were involved in the search.
Ahmad Puzi said Indonesia’s National Search and Rescue Agency, or Basarnas, was helping to look for more survivors.
Indonesian Deputy Ambassador to Malaysia Hermono said the embassy would assist in identifying the victims and getting the survivors home.
In June last year, a wooden boat with 97 passengers capsized about two nautical miles off Sungai Air Hitam in Banting, at about midnight.
Fourteen of them drowned, including 12 women and a five-year-old girl. Sixty-one were rescued.
The boat had left a jetty in Sungai Judah on Pulau Carey and was also heading to Tanjung Balai.