SHIP SINKS: ELEVEN MISSING
Three rescued, but fisherman reported to have died in a separate boat capsize incident
LABUAN: Two vessels, a Thai-registered cargo ship and a yet-to-be identified Brunei-based fishing boat, sank some 60 nautical miles off Labuan in the Semarang area near Brunei waters. At least 12 persons were reported missing in the incidents, and they included eleven members ofthe 13-member crew of the timber-laden cargo ship MY Emerald and a 27-year-old fisherman who was reported by his father to have died and drifted away. Strong winds and rough seas have prevailed in the area for the last several days. Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) Sabah and FT Labuan enforcement chief First Admiral (Maritime) Ahmad Puzi AB Kahar told a press conference in Kota Kinabalu yesterday that an integrated search and rescue (SAR) operation has been launched in Sabah and neighbouring Brunei Darussalam to look for the eleven seamen believed to have been missing at sea since Dec 26. Ahmad Puzi said the Thailand-registered ship, laden with sawn timber, was reported missing on Dec 26 at around 8.3Opm. “As at 1pm today (yesterday), we managed to rescue two of the crew members in the operation which involves the agency, Navy, Air Force, the Marine Police and our counterparts in Brunei,” he said. One of the survivors was said to be the chief engineer of the cargo ship. “We learned from the survivors that the ship had experienced technical failure and we believe it capsized some 11 or 12 hours after leaving Kota Kinabalu for Thailand. “Based on the time frame and an average speed of between 10 to 15 knots which is common for merchant ships, we estimate the ship was around 300 miles out of Kota Kinabalu, which means it could be in Brunei waters,” he said. Ahmad Puzi said the Malaysian side of the operation will cover an area of around 50 square nautical miles by sea and a larger area coverage by air. “We have found a good indication of where the ship may have capsized as we found a lot of floating wood in one area. We will continue with our operation until we find it is suitable to stop,” he said. Ahmad Puzi disclosed that while searching for the 11 missing men, they managed to save an Indonesian fisherman based in Brunei, whose boat had also capsized in the SAR area. “We have already brought him for medical treatment in Labuan and now in the midst of going through procedures to send him back to Brunei I must stress that the weather conditions now are quite violent,” he said. “According to the forecast until Jan 5, waves will go up between four to five metres with winds of between 50-60 nautical miles per hour. This is very dangerous for fishing boats, small vessels and even larger ships like merchant ships. “If anyone is going to travel out to sea, we would advise them to take extra precautions or even better if they can postpone their trip because we would like to avoid any more untoward incidents,” he said. The ill-fated 70.41-meter long cargo ship departed Kota Kinabalu for Bangkok on Christmas Day. KM Adil, a MMEA patrol craft that set sail from here to join the rescue effort for the cargo vessel is crew members, stumbled on and rescued the semi-conscious fisherman at 12.50 pm on Saturday, near the Champion Oil Rig in the Semarang area. The fisherman, who is of Indonesian origin, was brought ashore to Labuan at 2.45 pm yesterday. Labuan-based MMEA Lieutenant Norihan Bin Ngah, who commanded the search and rescue operations aboard KM Adil, told The Borneo Post yesterday that they found the fisherman in a semiconscious state as he stayed afloat with the insulated cover of a fish storage ice- container. After feeding him with some water, he managed to talk a little, he said. “The man told us that his 27-year-old son that was clinging on to the floating cover with him had died and drifted away,” he said. “The man also managed to tell us that there were five others in the fishing boat that had sunk,” Norihan said, adding that knowing the direction of the sea current, there is a good chance of finding the body of the son in a day or two when it floats to the surface. According to Norihan, an aircraft from the Royal Malaysian Air Force headquarters here is continuing with the air surveillance. MV Emerald, owned by Intertrans Co Ltd that had a gross tonnage of 961.27 MT, was transporting 1200 cubic meters of sawn timber that was loaded at Sandakan and Tawau earlier this month.