Police today arrested three people, including a boat owner, over the capsize of a catamaran ferrying Chinese tourists to Pulau Mengalum last Saturday.

Sabah Police Commissioner Ramli Din said the 44-year-old owner of the catamaran was arrested in Kota Kinabalu at about 4pm.

"Police found that the owner, who also doubles up as the manager, has breached procedures, including overloading the boat.

"Police will also investigate whether negligence led to the deaths of tourists," he said at a press conference in Kota Kinabalu.

Twenty tourists were rescued, three were found dead and four are missing after the catamaran carrying 27 Chinese tourists and three crew capsized at about 10am last Saturday while heading for Pulau Mengalum from the Tanjung Aru jetty here.

Two of the three crew have been rescued and they, along with the boat owner, are being remanded until Feb 2 to help in the investigation into the mishap.

Only 27 tourists on board

Ramli also said that the number of Chinese tourists in the catamaran was 27 and not 28 as reported earlier because one tourist, Li Qun, 33, and his family registered for the trip but did not get on board seeing that the boat was already crowded.

Li's name was still on the manifest but the names of his family members had been removed, he explained.

Ramli said the search was going on for the four missing tourists and one crewman.

However, he added, police would verify whether there were any other tourists who did not board the boat after registering for the trip.

Ramli said three teams had been set up with regard to the incident.

One team would probe a report of sudden death, the second would act as a liaison body with one police officer to handle the welfare of one victim and the third was a special team under the Sabah Police Criminal Investigation Department to probe any element of negligence that could have led to deaths, under Section 304A of the Penal Code, he said.

On the 20 tourists who were rescued, Ramli said 12 of them were in stable condition but exhausted and the other eight suffered burns, peeling skin and swollen legs and had difficulty walking.

All of them were under treatment at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Kota Kinabalu, he added.

On the three dead tourists, he said post-mortems had been conducted on two of the bodies.

The catamaran carrying the 27 tourists and three crew was hit by strong winds and huge waves an hour after it departed the Tanjung Aru jetty at about 9am for Pulau Mengalum, a tourist destination 56km north-west of Kota Kinabalu.

Twenty tourists and two crew were rescued in the waters of Semarang near Labuan and three tourists were found dead.

Najib wants detailed probe

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak wants a detailed investigation to be carried out to identify the cause of the capsized catamaran tragedy in Sabah.

However, he said for now, focus should be given to the efforts to find the six other victims still missing.

"I view seriously the capsized boat tragedy in Sabah and I want a detailed investigation to be carried out to identify the cause of the incident," he said in his latest posting on Facebook and Twitter.

The prime minister also urged all quarters to adhere to the rules and guidelines set by the government to ensure safety.

Round-the-clock search for six others

The search and rescue (SAR) operation for five more tourists from China and a crew member who are still missing after a catamaran capsized in the waters of Sabah on Saturday will continue over the next 24 hours.

Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) director-general Maritime Admiral Ahmad Puzi Kahar said two sets of crew would be deployed by the agencies involved in the operation, namely the MMEA, Royal Malaysian Navy (TLDM), Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) and Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM).

He said about 20 types of marine and air assets, including two used by the Brunei authorities to look for the victims in their waters, were used in today's operation alone.

"Today, we covered an area of 2,000 square miles compared to only 400 square miles yesterday and 1,000 square miles a day earlier.

"Overall, the search area covered today is 2,400 square miles if we take into account the search in the waters of Brunei," Ahmad Puzi told reporters after participating in the operation, along with Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Shahidan Kassim in Kota Kinabalu today.

Ahmad Puzi said, based on the locations where 23 other victims were found yesterday evening, the MMEA did not rule out the possibility of the missing victims drifting west, and hence, the operation today also headed in that direction.

He said a total of 350 enforcement and rescue personnel were involved in the operation, not including those assisting from their respective offices.

Asked on the capacity of the capsize catamaran, Ahmad Puzi said a statement on the matter would only be made after a comprehensive investigation had been carried out.

"Our priority now is to focus on the search and rescue," he said.

Meanwhile, Ahmad Puzi said all tourist boat companies must comply with the licensing requirements and the public should lodge a complaint if they knew the companies failed to do so.

- Bernama

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