By THE BORNEOTODAY TEAM
KOTA KINABALU – Hopes remain high that the 28 tourists from China, believed to be drifting close to Pulau Tiga after their catamaran capsized on Saturday, will be rescued despite being missing for more than 24 hours.
It is believed that the tourists, among them several children, were tied to a rope together with the third crewman, while the skipper and another crew member went for help.
The Chinese consulate in Kota Kinabalu said multiple survivors “were reported drifting at sea waiting for rescue,” the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
Chinese state television said the crew reported helping passengers put on life jackets as the boat was sinking, then tried to look for help.
This could not be immediately confirmed but the skipper and one crewman has since been found alive. They were found in waters between Pulau Tiga and the Samarang offshore petroleum platform at about 2pm Sunday.
Sabah Parks director, Jamili Nais first posted on his Facebook account that two people were rescued, after the catamaran was said to have drifted and capsized near Pulau Tiga.
“Four Sabah Parks boats are helping with the search and rescue efforts,” he posted, adding “The boat was said to have drifted and has capsized near Pulau Tiga Park.”
Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) deputy director for Sabah and Labuan Maritime Captain Rahim Ramli has since confirmed that the skipper and crewman have been rescued.
He said MMEA was notified by the company which owned the catamaran that the skipper and one crewman had been found.
The catamaran which set off from Tanjung Aru at 9am on Saturday, was headed on its 56km journey to Pulau Mengalum, but it never reached its destination.
The SaR mission involves the MMEA, Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) and the Marine Operations Force (MOF) as well as the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) .
“RMAF has despatched a C130 aircraft for the operation,” he said in a statement here Sunday.
Rescue operations were said to be happened by sough seas.
Meanwhile, the New Straits Times reported that the skipper of another boat, last saw the missing catamaran near Pulau Sapi Saturday.
Arwin Musbir, 24, said he was transporting 32 Chinese tourists on his boat to Pulau Mengalum, leaving the Tanjung Aru jetty at 9am, together with the missing catamaran.
“We were heading to Pulau Mengalum and were ahead of them. As we passed Pukau Sapi, I could no longer see the boat,” he was reported as saying.
Arwin said the catamaran never arrived at Pulau Mengalum and he only realised something was amiss after he asked other skippers about it on his way back to Tanjung Aru.
Fearing the worst, Arwin said he informed the company’s boss.
According to the official Xinhua News Agency rescuers were contending with strong winds and choppy waters.
Authorities are searching a section of the South China Sea of about 400 square nautical miles (nearly 1,400 square kilometers).
Malaysia deployed search and rescue ships and helicopters after receiving a call Saturday night about the boat’s disappearance, Xinhua reported.
Prime Minister Dato Seri Najib Razak said in a tweet Sunday afternoon that he was monitoring developments in the search.