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Three dead, 22 rescued in missing Sabah boat incident

Three bodies were pulled out from the waters near Labuan today after their catamaran capsized while on its way to Pulau Mengalum yesterday.

Sabah Police Commissioner Ramli Din said one of the dead was a woman.

He said 22 other people were found safe.

"At 3.30pm, we received information that two victims were found in the waters near Semarang.

"At 6 pm, we were informed that 23 other victims have also been found in the area, but three of them were dead. Six other people are still missing," he told a press conference in Kota Kinabalu.

Ramli said the identity of the dead victims had yet to be ascertained.

The two victims found earlier had been identified as Aman Abdul, 38 and Sharezaa Salian Sali, 25, and both are locals.

Ramli said the boat ferrying a skipper, two crew members and 28 tourists from China was believed to have capsized due to strong winds and big waves at around 10 am yesterday, an hour after it left the Tanjung Aru jetty for Pulau Mengulum, about 56 km north-west of Kota Kinabalu.

However, he said police were investigating whether there was an element of negligence.

Meanwhile, Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Shahidan Kassim said the search and rescue operation involved various assets owned by the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA), Marine Police and Royal Malaysian Air Force.

The operation was activated at 10.15am yesterday and coordinated by Kota Kinabalu Maritime Rescue Sub Coordinator (MRCS) covering a search area of 400 square nautical miles.

MMEA said a search and rescue (SAR) mission using its patrol boat Kilat 36 was mounted at 10.15pm yesterday and two more assets - patrol boats Kilat 36 and Kilat 39 and ship KM Berani - joined the SAR operation today.

Other agencies involved in the SAR mission included the Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN), which despatched its ship KD Ganas, and the Marine Operations Force (MOF), the agency said.

Sabah bars more than 12 passengers

The authorities will check to see whether the catamaran was registered in Sabah or elsewhere, Bernama reported.

Assistant Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment, Pang Yuk Ming said the Sabah government had ruled that catamarans could carry a maximum of 12 people, including the crew and skipper.

"A catamaran has a capacity of more than 30 passengers. However, the Sabah government limits the number of passengers for tourism purposes," he told reporters at the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA), Sabah and Labuan Headquarters, today.

Catamarans registered outside Sabah can carry more than 30 passengers.

Pang said Jesselton Point and not Tanjung Aru Jetty, is the normal jetty used by boats to reach tourist resorts on islands on the west coast of Sabah.

The operator's decision to switch to Tanjung Aru Jetty could be due to high passenger traffic at Jessselton Point due to the Chinese New Year celebration.

Meanwhile, China's consul-general in Sabah, Chen Peijie, said that the country's leadership took serious view of the incident which received wide coverage in China.

The diplomat said family members in China can contact China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs at 12308 for more information on their family members.

- Bernama

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