A body believed to be that of a woman kayaker who went missing in the waters near Mersing a week ago has been found in Terengganu.
A fisherman spotted the body, which was fully clothed and had a life jacket on, at 12.50pm yesterday. It was floating in the sea near Kuala Kemaman, at least 100 nautical miles, or 185km, from where Madam Puah Geok Tin and another kayaker had gone missing, and some 18 nautical miles from where their kayak had been found on Tuesday.
He informed the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) in Kemaman of the find. The local authorities there retrieved the body, which was taken to a hospital in Kemaman for post-mortem and identification, MMEA Mersing Zone commander Haris Fadzillah Abdullah told reporters in Mersing yesterday.
Family members of Madam Puah, who had been waiting for days at the search and rescue centre at Penyabong Jetty in Mersing, were told of the discovery by Malaysian officials and asked to help in identifying the body.
Madam Puah, 57, and another Singaporean, Mr Tan Eng Soon, 62, had been with a group of 13 others on an open-water kayak expedition around the Endau islands last Thursday when they became separated from the group.
At the centre yesterday, Madam Puah's husband, Mr Peng Mun Kit, and son, Mr Louis Pang, were seen going into a room to speak to the local authorities and Singapore consulate personnel.
A few minutes later, they came out, visibly upset, and went over to Mr Tan's wife, Madam Kwan Yoke Yee, 58, and other family members.
After a brief conversation, members of Mr Tan's family took turns to hug both Mr Peng and his son. As the duo walked away, Madam Kwan began to cry.
Just a few hours earlier, family members had verified their loved ones' personal belongings, such as wallets and toiletries.
These had been stowed inside their green kayak, found on Tuesday by another fisherman some 80 nautical miles away from where the duo were last seen.
The Straits Times understands that Madam Puah, a businesswoman, and Mr Tan, a retired lawyer, had experience in open-water kayaking, and the group had been training on weekends for the trip for two months.
The families had seen a glimmer of hope, after more than four days of waiting, when the fisherman contacted Mr Tan's family using his phone, found among the belongings retrieved from the kayak.
Madam Puah's husband, Mr Peng, told The Straits Times on Tuesday that the families had rushed over to the local authorities at the search and rescue centre the moment the fisherman had contacted them.
"We passed the phone to (the local authorities) so that they could speak to them in Malay," said Mr Peng, 56.
Mr Peng held out hope that this meant the duo could be in the vicinity, but his son felt conflicted, saying it was not "really a good sign" that the kayak had been found without the paddlers.
After the discovery of the body, the Malaysian authorities said that search operations would now cover the area between Pekan in Pahang and Tanjung Gelang in Kemaman.
At a news conference held earlier in the day, before the discovery, the authorities had said that four helicopters, one aeroplane, three vessels and seven boats would be deployed in the operation. The air search area would be expanded from 900 nautical sq miles on Tuesday to 1,200 nautical sq miles, said MMEA officials.
They also said the sea search area would be reduced from 600 nautical sq miles to 451 nautical sq miles.
With search and rescue operations starting at around 7am each morning and ending at dusk each day, family members have gathered in the jetty canteen at daybreak every day to await news. Friends of the two families have also arrived in Mersing to lend their support.
At around 7pm yesterday, Madam Puah's family members and friends, along with the Malaysian authorities and Singapore consulate personnel, left Mersing for Kemaman to identify the body.