LANGKAWI, Malaysia (AFP) - More vessels bearing hungry migrants are headed towards Malaysia, which has beefed up sea and air patrols off its north-eastern coast to prevent them landing, a top coast guard official said on Thursday.
Malaysian First Admiral Tan Kok Kwee told AFP "there are vessels ferrying illegals waiting for an opportunity to come into Malaysia, especially from a neighbouring country". Adm Tan, who is directing operations around the resort island of Langkawi where more than 1,100 migrants swam ashore this week, did not specify which country he was referring to, nor provide details on the incoming boats.
Adm Tan declined to confirm whether Malaysia had yet intercepted any vessels. But he said Malaysia had doubled its assets at sea around Langkawi, the northern island of Penang, and the northeastern coast near Thailand. It also was conducting air patrols, he said.
"We have doubled up our assets and manpower to prevent any illegal intrusion. We are on alert," he said.
Migrant-rights advocates warn thousands more men, women and children are believed stuck out at sea or abandoned by smugglers since a Thai police crackdown disrupted people-smuggling routes. Some 2,000 boat people from Myanmar and Bangladesh have been rescued or have swam to shore in Malaysia and Indonesia since the weekend.
Malaysia and Indonesia have said they will turn back boats - after supplying them with provisions - drawing warnings from migrant groups that the tough policy could fuel a worsening humanitarian crisis.
Indonesia said it turned away a boat this week carrying hundreds of people, and activists say Thailand also typically prevents them landing.
The migrant crisis is fuelling calls for a coordinated South-east Asian response to save lives.
Many migrants are Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic group denied citizenship by Buddhist-majority Myanmar and who flee by the thousands each year to escape discrimination and sectarian violence.