A FORMER Raffles Institution (RI) discipline master and teacher is now feared to have drowned after going missing on a visit to Malaysia's Tioman island more than a week ago.
Mr Tan Kim Cheng, 83, was on a three-night voyage with Star Cruises when his ship docked at the island on Monday last week, at around 7am, for an excursion.
Passengers were told to return by 3pm but Mr Tan, a Singaporean father of two who was travelling alone, never showed up and the alarm was raised.
A search involving 50 Malaysian police officers and volunteers has been ongoing during daylight hours, but after eight days, it has turned up nothing but Mr Tan's backpack which was found in the sea off Tioman.
Now there is increasing worry that he drowned, according to Tioman police chief Awang Fatiah Haji Zulkifli.
"We've searched from one end to the other, we've gone around and around... all we found was his backpack," Sergeant Awang told The Straits Times on the phone.
"The surface of the water may look calm, but underneath the water is rushing. Usually, we manage to find bodies in 24 hours or two days... but there's no such luck now."
The island of Tioman, a popular diving spot, is located about 32km off Pahang state in the South China Sea.
A Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman told The Straits Times that the Singapore High Commission in Kuala Lumpur is in touch with Mr Tan's family.
A Star Cruises spokesman said the case has been handed over to Malaysian police, adding: "We have contacted the missing passenger's family and are assisting the local authorities in the investigation."
Mr Tan's sister, Madam Irene Tan, 76, said that her brother lost his wife to an illness last year. The couple loved the sea and went on cruises frequently.
"He loved exploring," said the retired teacher.
"The last time he went to Tioman was at least 20 years ago, so he must have been pretty keen to get on shore and look around.
"The family knows that the police are doing their very best and are continuing with the search. We are hoping and praying for the best outcome."
Mr Tan taught humanities at RI's Bras Basah and then Grange Road campus from 1963 to 1987, serving under four principals.
His buzzcut and booming voice became veritable fixtures, along with the man himself.
The avid tennis and golf player, who was in charge of the school's National Cadet Corps (NCC), oversaw discipline among the students.
MP Zaqy Mohamad, who entered RI in 1987, said: "He was stern and firm, and I remember seeing him reprimanding students in the open.
"Boys being boys, we would try to avoid him if we were playing pranks, and we would try not to be late for school."
Mr Peter Yap, 63, who works in administration, was taught by Mr Tan in 1968 when he was in Secondary 4.
"He appears very tough on the outside, but once you get to know him, he's soft and caring on the inside," he said.
"He regularly keeps in touch with his students, and whenever former students have gatherings, we would call him.
"I was stunned when I heard the latest news. But he's very outgoing and adventurous, so it's not out of his nature to go exploring on his own."
Former NCC member Chan Shelt Tsong, 66, a contracts director, said: "A large part of his life was centred on school.
"He attended almost every Founder's Day even after he left.
"We really hope that the worst has not happened and that he will eventually turn up safe."
Additional reporting by Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh