Boat capsizes off Pedra Branca; 3-nation search on for 2 Malaysians

A crew member of RSS Sovereignty scanning the horizon for the missing men. He is looking at Pedra Branca, and Middle Rocks is to his left.
A crew member of RSS Sovereignty scanning the horizon for the missing men. He is looking at Pedra Branca, and Middle Rocks is to his left.PHOTO: FACEBOOK/NG ENG HEN

A three-nation search effort is under way for two missing Malaysian men whose fishing boat capsized near Pedra Branca on Sunday.

Singapore is coordinating the search and rescue operations with the Malaysian and Indonesian authorities, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) said in a statement yesterday.

"Ships and helicopters from various agencies are involved," Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said in a Facebook post yesterday.

"This is a good working relationship and I'm glad that such close co-ordination occurs when lives are at stake. I hope we find the two men."

The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA), which confirmed the incident earlier yesterday, said a search and rescue mission was launched after it got a report from Malaysia's Abu Bakar Maritime Base on Middle Rocks.

"A total of 30 rescuers were immediately deployed to the scene, in search of the two victims whom authorities identified as Tan Soon Heng, 35, and Chan Chong Kuok, 51, from Johor Baru," said the agency's Southern Region deputy director of operations Sanifah Yusof in a statement. "The duo were last seen hanging onto their boat."

MPA said it was informed by Johor's Maritime Rescue Sub Centre at 7.30pm on Sunday that two men were reported missing after their sampan capsized at about 4.30pm.

The incident took place some 1.5km south-east of Pedra Branca, at the eastern entrance of the Singapore Strait. This is within the Singapore Maritime Search and Rescue Region, MPA added.

The International Court of Justice in 2008 ruled Pedra Branca belonged to Singapore and Middle Rocks, some 1km apart, to Malaysia.

Republic of Singapore Navy vessel RSS Sovereignty, which was in the vicinity of the incident, and its servicemen were activated for the search from Sunday evening, Dr Ng said. The Republic of Singapore Air Force yesterday deployed a Super Puma and a Chinook helicopter.

Personnel stationed on Pedra Branca are also keeping a lookout, Dr Ng added. He posted a photo of a Singapore Police Coast Guard craft taking part in the search, together with a Royal Malaysian Navy Handalan-class vessel and an Indonesian Navy Sibarau-class vessel.

Meanwhile, MMEA's Mr Sanifah said the boat had capsized fully 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 MMEA, marine police and navy are involved.

Mr Sanifah urged the public 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."

Mr Chan's mother Irene Heng pleaded for the authorities to intensify the rescue mission. "Authorities found the cooler box floating in the area but there was no sign of them," she told The Straits Times.

"We don't know where they could have drifted, they could have entered Indonesian waters," she said.

"My family and I are so traumatised, we're waiting in agony."

MPA has also asked ships to look out for the missing men. It is investigating the incident.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 12, 2017, with the headline 'Boat capsizes off Pedra Branca; 3-nation search on for 2 Malaysians'. Print Edition | Subscribe