KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia has ended search operations for missing Singaporean kayaker Tan Eng Soon, 62, after 10 days of scouring the sea from north Johor to Terengganu on the east coast of peninsula Malaysia.
Search efforts were terminated as of 9pm on Sunday (Aug 18).
"The search and rescue operation over 10 days succeeded in finding the kayak with the victims' personal belongings and a female body, while the male victim could not be found," the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) said in a statement on Monday (Aug 19).
The search operation had cost more than RM431,000 (S$143,045) and involved 155 personnel, five air and 11 sea assets.
"Search and rescue operations would be reactivated if there are new leads," said Johor MMEA director First Admiral (Maritime) Aminuddin Abdul Rashid.
Mr Tan and Madam Puah Geok Tin, 57, went missing during a kayaking session off the waters of Mersing, Johor, on Aug 8.
Both were both part of a group of Singaporeans kayaking between Pulau Seri Buat, in Pahang, and Pulau Mertang, in Johor, but they split away from the group at around 5.40pm on Aug 8. Weather conditions on the day were described as unfavourable, with choppy waters and strong winds.
The green kayak with the victims' belongings was found on Aug 13 off the shore of Kuantan, in Pahang, while Madam Puah's body was found floating near Kemaman, Terengganu, the next day. It was found some 100 nautical miles off from where she was last spotted kayaking.
On Aug 15, local fishermen in Terengganu reported sighting a body that was floating near Dungun but nothing came from the tip-off.
The group of 15 Singaporeans, mostly in their 40s and 50s who had varying kayaking abilities, and and one local guide, had set out from Endau on what was supposed to be a routine expedition.
A member of the group, who only wanted to be known as Mr Goh, said they were in eight kayaks on the fateful day, but as the weather deteriorated, they ended up separated, with one group in three kayaks and the other with five.
As visibility got poorer, they had to keep paddling to maintain stability amid the strong waves, said Mr Goh.
Only when they had reached Pulau Mertang did the others realise that Mr Tan and Madam Puah were missing. But they could only seek help the next day on Aug 9.
The funeral for Madam Puah is taking place on Tuesday (Aug 20) in Singapore.
In a statement on Monday, Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) expressed its deepest sympathies to the families of the two Singaporeans involved.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the families during this difficult time," the ministry said.
"The Singapore Government would like to express our deep appreciation to the Malaysian government and all Malaysian agencies who were involved in the Search and Rescue (SAR) operations over the past 10 days. It was an intensive operation, during which assets and manpower were deployed in challenging conditions that covered a vast area of waters off the Malaysian states of Johor, Pahang and Terengganu.
"We are especially grateful to the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA), who led the SAR efforts and coordinated among the various Malaysian agencies both on the ground and at sea," the MFA said.
The ministry added: "We have also been heartened by the support and assistance of ordinary Malaysians from all walks of life, especially the fishermen in the area who played a critical role in the recovery efforts."
MFA on Monday also released a thank you note from Mr Tan's family.
It said: "We, the family of Tan Eng Soon, would like to thank the MMEA and all other organisations that have been involved in the search for him. The support and compassion of the local fishermen and community has also touched us and given us strength through this difficult time.
"We would also like to offer our heartfelt thanks to the Singapore MFA who have gone above and beyond the call of duty to be with us every step of the way. Although we were not able to find his body, we take heart in the fact that he loved the sea and he will be at peace there."