8 dead, more than 20 missing in Johor boat tragedy

People gather near a boat that capsized near Batu Pahat in Johor on July 24, 2016.
People gather near a boat that capsized near Batu Pahat in Johor on July 24, 2016.PHOTO: EPA//MALAYSIAN MARITIME ENFORCEMENT AGENCY

JOHOR BARU (REUTERS/THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Malaysian authorities have recovered the bodies of eight Indonesians and are searching for more than 20 who are still missing after their boat capsized off the southern state of Johor on Saturday (July 23) night. 

Search and rescue teams recovered the bodies of two men and two women as of Sunday afternoon, adding to the four that were found after the incident on Saturday night, the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) said in a statement.

The boat, which was carrying 62 Indonesians, capsized just metres away from the shores of Pantai Batu Layar in Johor, the authorities said on Sunday (July 24).

The passengers were attempting to sneak out of Malaysia when the incident occurred, the authorities said.

Johor Immigration Department director Rohaizi Ibrahim said the mishap occurred between 8pm and 9pm on Saturday.

"Initial investigations revealed that the group was attempting to sneak out of the country via a non-gazetted route in a bot pancung (rickety boat).

"The group had climbed the boat at around 7pm last night but were struck by waves as high as two metres that caused the boat to capsize," Rohaizi told reporters.

He added that the 34 survivors, aged between 25 year and 41, were handed over to the department around 7am Sunday for further investigations and action.

"The villagers rushed to the rescue of the victims before handing over some of them when the authorities arrived," Rohaizi said, adding that a search and rescue operation was ongoing to locate 21 others lost at sea.

Earlier, the Fire and Rescue Department issued a statement on the mishap, saying that four from the group including three women had drowned in the tragedy.

Its operation commander Azlan Mohd Sobri said three officers from the Bandar Penawar station were deployed to the scene after receiving a distress call at 11.07pm before a search and rescue operation was launched.

He said 29 army personnel, 12 police officers, and three hospital staff members well as officers from the Malaysia Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) were also assisting in the operation.