KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysian authorities expanded the search for four Chinese tourists and a crew member still missing at sea Monday two days after their boat sank off Borneo island. Police detained the boat’s owner and the surviving captain and crew member to assist the investigation.
Three Chinese died but 22 people were rescued, most of them after huddling together in the rough waters, wearing life vests and forming human chains, finally being saved by fishermen after more than 10 hours adrift.
Malaysia’s Maritime Enforcement Agency said in a statement that the search area has been expanded by about four times to 1,500 square nautical miles of the South China Sea off Sabah state. It said Brunei has also deployed a plane to search in its waters.
Government minister Shahidan Kassim was reported by the national Bernama news agency as saying that the 20 Chinese tourists rescued were weak, shivering and sunburnt but had sustained no serious injuries. The survivors were brought ashore late Sunday and hospitalized. Shahidan said rescuers were running out of time as one of the survivors had told authorities that one of the missing had died.
Their catamaran left Sabah’s capital, Kota Kinabalu, Saturday morning to Pulau Mengalum, an island 60 kilometers (38 miles) west, and was reported missing about 12 hours later. Sabah police chief Ramli Din tweeted late Monday that 27 Chinese tourists were on the vessel, rather than 28 as disclosed earlier. It had three crew members.
The captain and one crew member were rescued by another tourist boat Sunday afternoon, and fishermen found the 20 other survivors along with the three dead, two men and a woman, a few hours later. Authorities said the survivors had been adrift for 10 hours but didn’t say when the boat sank or give other details.
The police chief said the boat owner has been detained, along with the captain and surviving crew member, to assist the investigation. He didn’t elaborate.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang in a statement Sunday expressed “profound condolences” to the affected families. Geng called on Malaysia to “continue to make all-out efforts in its search and rescue work,” as well as to carry out an “impartial and objective” investigation into the accident.
Malaysia’s Sabah and Sarawak states share Borneo island with Brunei and Indonesia’s Kalimantan province.
Many Chinese travel abroad during the Lunar New Year holiday, which began Saturday.
Associated Press researcher Henry Hou in Beijing contributed to this report.
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