Death toll rises to 15 in twin Malaysia boat accidents

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - Malaysian authorities said on Friday that a 15th body was found and 27 people remain missing from two boat accidents, at a time when Indonesian illegal migrant workers head home for the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

Eighty-two people have been rescued so far in an ongoing search off western Malaysia after the boats, believed to be bound for Sumatra, sank on Wednesday and Thursday, said Mr Mohamad Hambali Yaakup, an official with the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA).

"Of the 15 bodies, 12 are male and three female," he told AFP.

A first boat carrying 97 Indonesians was first reported to have sunk near Port Klang, the country's main sea port, before a second sunken vessel with 27 passengers was discovered slightly south near the district of Sepang.

Of the 82 survivors, six have been hospitalised and the rest detained by authorities. Twenty are still missing from the first boat and another seven from the second vessel.

Officials believe some of those yet to be accounted for have made it to land nearby and fled to avoid being apprehended by authorities.

Investigations are underway but officials said both boats sank in rough seas and were overloaded - with the first one carrying more than three times its capacity.

Large numbers of Indonesians - many of them illegal migrants - return home annually from Malaysia for Ramadan, which this year begins at the end of June and will culminate in late July with Eid al-Fitr, Islam's biggest festival. Both Malaysia and Indonesia are Muslim-majority.

Malaysia is a magnet for migrant workers from poorer neighbours such as Indonesia, Bangladesh and Myanmar, who seek low-paying plantation, construction, and factory work that is typically shunned by Malaysians. Around two million illegal immigrants - the vast majority of them Indonesian - are estimated to be working in the country.

Accidents, however, are frequent as thousands brave the sea journey to and from Malaysia in rickety boats, often adding to the risk by travelling at night to avoid detection.

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