By THE BORNEOTODAY TEAM
KOTA KINABALU – There was mixed emotions at the Marine Police jetty here early Monday morning as the trawler with 23 Chinese tourists berthed after an almost six-hour journey close to Pulau Tiga where most were rescued from the waters.
Among the 23, three of them were dead. Their identities have yet to be ascertained.
Those who returned alive suffered dehydration, severe sunburn and sheer exhaustion.
Eight of the tourists needed to be stretchered and taken by ambulance to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for treatment for dehydration and severe sunburn.
However, all were taken to the hospital for an overnight observation before they can be released to the authorities for further action.
As the ambulances raced to QEH 1, word filtered down that one of the six persons still missing after the catamaran capsized off Pulau Tiga on Saturday, could have died.
This could not be immediately confirmed, though a source involved in the search and rescue on Sunday said one of those rescued had told the authorities that she saw a body floating not long before she was picked up.
“But we cannot immediately confirm if that body was one of the three found dead earlier or if it was that of a fourth victim,” said the highly placed source.
The trawler berthed at the jetty at 1.45am but reporters and journalists were kept a distance away. Photographers and television cameramen had to carry out their duties from an adjacent building.
When met outside the marine police base later, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim said search and rescue operations continued overnight in the area around Pulau Tiga where the others were rescued earlier Sunday.
“Three more aircraft, including a Bombardier will join the aerial search,” Shahidan who was on board the trawler told reporters.
“We will do everything within our means to bring back the other six other persons (still missing),” said Shahidan.
The missing include five China tourists and a local crewman.
The bodies of the three dead tourists, two men and a woman, were also on board the trawler and their remains were taken to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital 1 for a post mortem.
On Saturday, the catamaran ferrying a skipper, two crew members and 28 tourists from China was believed to have capsized due to strong winds and big waves at around 10 am, an hour after it left the Tanjung Aru jetty for Pulau Mengulum.
A police report of the missing catamaran was only made at 9.45m on Saturday and a search and rescue operation was immediately mounted.
At about 2pm on Sunday, the boat skipper, Sharezaa Sslian Salian, 25, and a crew identified as Aman Abdul, 38, both locals were found near Pulau Tiga.
“At 6 pm, we were informed that 23 other victims have also been found in the area, but three of them were dead. Six other people are still missing,” Sabah Police Commissioner, Datuk Ramli Din told a press conference here.
China’s Consul General in Sabah, Chen Peijie said she was happy with the search and rescue operations thus far.
Met at the Marine Police jetty at the same time as Shahidan, Chen said she was concerned for the missing five China nationals as well as the local crewman.
“I have been instructed to work closely with the Malaysian authorities to ensure that the missing five are rescued,” she told reporters.
The search and rescue operation involved various assets owned by the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency, Marine Police and Royal Malaysian Air Force.
The Marine jetty here was a hive of activity as medical personnel waited to take care of the rescued and to bring them to the hospital in ambulances and vans.
Also waiting for the rescued tourists was assistant tourism minister Datuk Pang Yuk Ming and Sabah Tourism Board chairman, Datuk Joniston Bangkuai.