SANDAKAN: Three crew members of tugboat are missing after their vessel capsized in choppy waters off Sandakan on Sabah's east coast.
A fourth crew member of the tugboat managed to safe himself by swimming to a nearby coastline following the incident that occurred in waters around the Kuala Kinabatangan river mouth near Sandakan at about 4am on Wednesday (Jan 13).
Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) Sandakan director Kapt Zaiunuddin Mohd Zuki said that a search and rescue operation was immediately launched after the tugboat owner alerted Maritime Rescue Sub Centre (MRSC) Kota Kinabalu at 4pm on Wednesday.
He said the tugboat registered as Ever Winner was pulling the empty barge (Ever Eternity) when they were caught in rough seas and bad weather before the boat apparently capsized.
Kapt Zainudin said the tugboat's engineer Asman Mohamad, 31, swam to safety while three others - the skipper Mohamad Mal, 49, and crewmen Mohd Hafiz Isyra Nagrah, 22, and Azlan Hassan, 23, have yet to be located.
A fifth person who was the crew on the Ever Eternity barge - Roslie Antala, 48 - was found save along the coastline of Kinabatangan river mouth. The barge had drifted off from the tugboat after its cable snapped.
"Based on the information provided by Asman, we are told that he was thrown out of the tugboat in bad weather and he managed to swim the closest shoreline.
"However, Asman believes that the three others were trapped inside the boat," Kapt Zainuddin, said adding that it was dark when the incident occurred and Azman could not see what happened to the tugboat.
Attempts to make radio communications with the tugboat also failed, Kapt Zainuddin said, adding that they believed the boat had capsized.
He said nine boats from MMEA, marine police, navy and the Fire and Rescue Department were deployed to carry out the search over an area of 211 square nautical miles.
He urged the maritime community in the area who have across any signs of the tugboat or the missing three to immediately inform Sandakan Maritime operations centre at 089-229504 or MERS 999.
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