Malaysian PM Najib orders search and rescue operation for migrants adrift at sea

Refugees from Myanmar and Bangladesh being rescued by Aceh fisherman in Julok, East Aceh, Indonesia, on May 20, 2015. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said on Thursday that he has ordered the navy and the coast guard to conduct search and rescue
Refugees from Myanmar and Bangladesh being rescued by Aceh fisherman in Julok, East Aceh, Indonesia, on May 20, 2015. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said on Thursday that he has ordered the navy and the coast guard to conduct search and rescue operations for boats carrying Rohingya migrants stranded at sea. -- PHOTO: EPA

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - Prime Minister Najib Razak said on Thursday that he had ordered the Malaysian navy and coastguard to conduct search and rescue operations for boats carrying stricken migrants including ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar.

“I have further ordered (the) Royal Malaysian Navy and Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency to conduct search and rescue efforts for Rohingya boats. We have to prevent loss of life,” Najib said on his Facebook account.

His statement marked the first clear indication that Malaysian vessels would actively seek to reach such boats.

On Wednesday, the Malaysian and Indonesian foreign ministers announced a breakthrough in the impasse involving thousands of migrants feared to be stranded at sea. They said the two countries would allow boatpeople to land on their shores – ending a much-condemned policy of turning them away – but did not specify at the time whether Malaysian forces would search for and rescue such boats.

Nearly 3,000 migrants have swum to shore or been rescued off Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand after a Thai crackdown on people-smuggling threw the illicit trade into chaos.

The boat loads of starving Rohingya and Bangladeshis have typically been found abandoned by their smuggling syndicates and left to fend for themselves.