Migrant boat sinks off Malaysia

  • 03/09/2015

At least 13 people have drowned after a small wooden boat, believed to have been carrying about 70 Indonesian migrants, sank in the Malacca Strait off Malaysia.

The vessel went down in choppy waters off Malaysia's western coast near the coastal town of Sabak Bernam in central Selangor state, Mohamad Aliyas Hamdan, the local head of the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency, said on Thursday (local time).

"Local fishermen have rescued 13 people and have found 13 bodies," he said.

Based on the size of the boat, it could have been carrying about 70 people, but local fishermen said there could have been up to 100 migrants on board, he added.

"We have deployed 12 ships and a plane along with some 200 officers to carry out the search and rescue operation for the remaining victims," he said.

The authorities have yet to interview the victims to confirm their nationality. The bodies will be taken to taken to a public hospital in Teluk Intan in neighbouring Perak state.

"We are not sure if the migrants were attempting to land in Malaysia or trying to leave Malaysia illegally," Aliyas said, describing the sinking as the worst boat tragedy so far this year.

Malaysia, Southeast Asia's third-largest economy, has been a magnet for Indonesians in search of jobs.

Around two million illegal immigrants, the vast majority of them from Indonesia, are estimated to be working in Malaysia.