Three-nation search ongoing for two missing Malaysians after boat capsized near Pedra Branca

Authorities from Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia are coordinating search and rescue efforts to look for the two men, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said in a Facebook post. PHOTO: FACEBOOK/DR NG ENG HEN

SINGAPORE/KUALA LUMPUR - A three-nation search effort is under way for two missing Malaysians whose fishing boat capsized near Pedra Branca on Sunday night (Dec 10).

The island is located at the eastern entrance of the Singapore Strait.

The Singapore, Malaysian and Indonesian authorities are coordinating their search and rescue efforts to look for the men, Singapore's Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said in a Facebook post on Monday (Dec 11).

"Ships and helicopters from various agencies are involved. This is a good working relationship and I'm glad that such close coordination occurs when lives are at stake," he wrote.

"I hope we find the two men," he added.

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) said in a statement on Monday it was informed by Johor's Maritime Rescue Sub Centre at about 1930 hours on Sunday that two men were reported missing after their sampan capsized earlier at around 1630 hours.

The incident had occurred 0.8 nautical miles or 1.5km south-east of Pedra Branca, the coordinates being latitude 01˚ 19.25'N and longitude 104˚ 24.97'E, within the Singapore Maritime Search and Rescue Region, MPA added.

Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) Littoral Mission Vessel RSS Sovereignty was immediately deployed to the area of the incident for search and rescue operations.

MPA also issued navigational broadcasts, asking ships to look out for the missing men and to navigate with caution in the vicinity of the incident.

"Singapore is coordinating the search and rescue operations with the Malaysian and Indonesian authorities," MPA said, adding it is investigating the incident.

The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) had confirmed the incident earlier on Monday and said a search and rescue mission was launched after a report was received from the Abu Bakar Maritime Base on Sunday evening.

"A total of 30 rescuers were immediately deployed to the scene, in search of the two victims whom the authorities identified as Tan Soon Heng, 35, and Chan Chong Kuok, 51, from Johor Baru," said MMEA southern region deputy director (operation) Sanifah Yusof in a statement on Monday.

"The duo were last seen hanging onto their boat," the statement said.

Malaysia's ABMB is located at Middle Rocks, 1km from Pedra Branca, which the International Court of Justice declared in 2008 as belonging to Singapore.

Dr Ng added in his post that Republic of Singapore Navy servicemen had been activated for the search from Sunday evening, and the Republic of Singapore Air Force joined the effort on Monday morning with helicopters. The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore is coordinating search and rescue operations, he added.

Meanwhile, MMEA's Mr Sanifah said the boat had fully capsized by the time a patrol unit arrived at the scene.

"The victims were also nowhere to be found. The rescue mission is still ongoing," he said, adding that the mission involves assets from the MMEA, marine police and Malaysia's navy.

Mr Sanifah urged the public, especially those from the maritime community, to take safety measures before going to sea.

"MMEA takes maritime security seriously and will always take the best measures and initiatives to reduce death rates at sea. The public, especially the maritime community, are advised to take sufficient preparatory steps before heading to the sea and be ready for any possibility of an emergency in view of the current uncertain weather," he said.

When contacted, Mr Chang's mother Irene Heng pleaded for the authorities to intensify the rescue mission.

"The authorities found the cooler box floating in the area but there was no sign of them. They probably have drifted away. I really hope the authorities could beef up the search and rescue mission, we don't know where they could have drifted, they could have entered the Indonesian waters," she said.

"My family and I are so traumatised, we're waiting in agony," she told The Straits Times over the phone.

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