KOTA KINABALU: A massive aerial and sea search is underway for the four people who remain missing in the South China Sea for more than 72 hours.
Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) Regional Maritime director Laksamana Pertama Mohd Zubil Mat Som said six aircraft were involved in the search along with six vessels from various agencies.
He said the search covering an area of more than 2,500sq km, or more than 10 times the size of Penang island, was being carried out west of Kudat.
The four – Spaniards David Hernandez Gasulla and Martha Miguel, Tanjung Simpang Mengayau resort owner Tommy Lam Wai Yin and another Malaysian identified as Ms Ella – went missing at about 6pm on Monday.
The search now involves the MMEA’s Dauphin helicopter, an Air Force Beechcraft as well as two other helicopters, a Cessna and a Nomad from Kota Kinabalu-based Layang Layang Aerospace.
Laksamana Pertama Mohd Zubil said also involved in the search were four MMEA vessels, three naval ships and two marine police patrol boats.
The families of the four had reportedly chartered three vessels to help in the search.
The four went missing while sailing from Pulau Balambangan and were supposed to arrive at Tanjung Simpang Mengayau at 8pm on Monday.
The engine of their boat may have malfunctioned, resulting in them being adrift in the sea.
The four are believed to have set off from Tanjung Simpang Mengayau earlier and the area where they went missing is where the Sulu Sea and the South China Sea meet.
The area is known for strong winds and choppy waters where many fishing boats have capsized over the years.
Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar said the four went missing amid bad weather and rough seas.
Asked about the possibility of being kidnapped, he said: “We can’t say that because we do not know where they are. Don’t speculate.”
He said this after presenting Ops Daulat medals of valour to 200 police officers and personnel at the Sabah General Operations Force headquarters in Kinarut near here.
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