Police rescued 60 illegal immigrants whose overcrowded boat sank near Malaysia as they tried to return to Indonesia for a holiday marking the end of the Muslim holy month, an official said on Saturday.
The tugboat, designed to carry up to 20 people, began filling with water off central Selangor state before dawn yesterday, said the state's marine police deputy chief, Nordin Osman.
"Only a few minutes more, and the boat would have capsized," Nordin said.
The Indonesians had each paid up to 800 ringgit ($230) to take the boat home for the Eid al-Fitr holiday this weekend at the end of the Ramadan fasting month, he said. Eight children including a 1-month-old baby numbered among the passengers.
The New Straits Times quoted Sisilah Kardiman, the 28-year-old mother of the baby, as saying the passengers used their hands to scoop out water as it seeped into the small boat.
"We panicked in the dark and did not know what to do. It started flooding and we used anything we could lay our hands on to drain out the water," she was quoted as saying.
Nordin said all the passengers were sent to detention centres. Immigrants who are caught in Malaysian waters without permission can face several months in prison before being deported. Police also detained three crew.