Malaysian authorities probe claim of Sabah ferry overloading after viral photos

KOTA KINABALU (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Malaysia's marine officials have launched an investigation following pictures that emerged on social media showing what appeared to be overloaded ferries operating between Labuan island and mainland Sabah.

The officials are checking on accusations by passengers of a ferry from Labuan to Sabah's south-western Menumbok that their boat was overloaded both with passengers as well as vehicles.

"It was really packed, I was worried but I still took it," said a passenger, who declined to be named.

He said that the ferry, which was scheduled to depart at 6am on Friday (Feb 1), only left at about 6.50am.

The delay was due to the huge number of passengers, he claimed.

Many of them, he said, ended up on the ferry with just standing room only.

The ferries can take up to 80 to 90 vehicles depending on its size and a maximum of about 300 passengers.

It is believed that the situation became more critical in view of the long weekend and Chinese New Year next week.

It was a public holiday in Labuan (Federal Territories Day) on Friday.

Many other passengers, despite their concern about the congestion, still boarded the ferry ride out of the duty-free island.

However, they felt that there should be more enforcement during the holiday season.

Speedboats between the island and Sabah's mainland Menumbok were also packed with passengers who included matriculation students heading back to their home town in Sabah.

Labuan Marine director Benjamin Bernard Bijion said that it would be looking into the matter and take steps to protect public safety.

"We will check the manifest of the company," he said.

He said that there must be a limit on the number of passengers and a sufficient number of life jackets as well.

Four ro-ro (roll-on/roll-off) ferries by different companies operate out of Labuan to the mainland daily.

Labuan police chief Muhamad Farid Ahmad urged people going away for the holidays to fill in return home forms available at police stations to allow them to carry out checks during their absence.