At least three people died after an overloaded boat ferrying Indonesians home for the coming Eid al-Fitr festival sank off southern Malaysia, a maritime official said on Friday. Three bodies were recovered, ten people were rescued and eight more remained missing in the incident early Thursday, the latest in a string of tragic boat accidents to mar the run-up to the Islamic holiday.
The boat capsized in rough seas off Malaysia's Johor state with 21 Indonesian illegal migrant workers aboard and sank, said Iskandar Ishak, local head of the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency. "An intense sea and air search and rescue operation is underway in the Malacca Straits with sea conditions being slightly choppy," he said.
In three previous reported incidents in recent weeks, more than a dozen Indonesians died and about two dozen others went missing in similar tragedies off Malaysia's west coast. Iskandar said the boat used in the latest incident had a capacity of just eight passengers. It was heading to Riau province in the huge Indonesian island of Sumatra across the Malacca Strait when it was hit by strong waves some 15 nautical miles (27 kilometres) off Malaysia. Boat accidents are common as migrants from Indonesia and other less-developed Southeast Asian countries in the region flock to relatively affluent Malaysia in search of work. An estimated two million foreigners are believed to be in the country without valid papers. Both Malaysia and Indonesia are Muslim-majority countries.