KOTA KINABALU (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The owner and skipper of the catamaran carrying Chinese tourists that sank last Saturday (Jan 28) have been charged with causing death by negligence at the Sessions Court in Kota Kinabalu.
The skipper, Sharezza Salian, 25, who is the first accused, pleaded guilty to the charge while no plea was recorded from the catamaran owner, Leong Vin Jee, 44.
Judge Ainul Shahrin Mohamed sentenced Sharezza to six months in jail.
Leong was asked to return for a re-mention of the case on Monday as he needed a Chinese interpreter.
Sharezza and Leong were accused of knowingly ferrying tourists on the overloaded catamaran at about 9.15am local time on Jan 28.
They had allegedly allowed the catamaran to leave a jetty at Tanjung Aru Lama, hence endangering the lives of the passengers.
Sharezza had pleaded for a lenient sentence as he was poor and had to look after his parents. He is the third of eight siblings.
Leong was allowed bail of RM5,000 (S$1,591) in one local surety and is to report to the Tanjung Aru police station on the 15th day of every month.
He was also not allowed to leave his place of residence and to report to the court if he wishes to leave the district.
The catamaran with 31 people on board - comprising 28 Chinese nationals and three crew members - sank at about 10am after departing the Tanjung Aru jetty an hour earlier.
The search effort began immediately after the company operating the vessel reported the mishap to the authorities 12 hours after the incident.
Twenty of the Chinese tourists survived the 32-hour ordeal at sea, while three died.
The search for five tourists and a crew member if still ongoing.
On Saturday, the body of a woman was recovered in the waters off Pulau Mengalum some 13 nautical miles from where the catamaran sank. Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency Kota Kinabalu director First Admiral Adam Aziz said the body, which was clad in a red shirt and black pants, was found caught in fishing nets at about 9.25am Saturday.
He said the body would be brought back to Kota Kinabalu by 12.30pm and an identification check will be carried out immediately.
He added that the discovery of the body had led rescuers to believe that the bodies of those still missing from the boat mishap could be stuck on the sea bed.