A fisherman has found the green kayak of the two Singaporeans who went missing last Thursday around 80 nautical miles - or 148km - from their last reported location.
Also found were personal items belonging to Mr Tan Eng Soon, 62, and Madam Puah Geok Tin, 57, who were last seen in waters off Mersing. They were separated from 13 other members of their group when strong winds and choppy waters lashed at their kayaks.
The missing duo's kayak was found about 1km south-east of Tanjung Gelang, off Kuantan in Pahang state, around 12.30pm yesterday.
Giving an update on the discovery later in the evening, the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) director for Johor, First Admiral (Maritime) Aminuddin Abdul Rashid, said items in the kayak included two wallets containing Malaysian and Singapore currency, a cellphone, Mr Tan's Singapore passport and a bag of clothes.
The Straits Times understands that the kayak was found upside down in open waters by a fisherman who towed it back to shore.
A paddle was found in the kayak, as was Mr Tan's bag, which had been strapped to the front compartment of the kayak and held his mobile phone and wallet containing cash as well as his PAssion card.
The families of the two missing Singaporeans were first alerted to the discovery when the fisherman used Mr Tan's mobile phone to contact his family via a WhatsApp chat group they had set up. Mr Tan, a retired lawyer, had left his phone unlocked and in a waterproof bag.
The fisherman sent him photos of the kayak and the belongings.
The family of Madam Puah also saw the photos.
"The moment I saw the kayak (in the photo), I knew it was theirs," said her husband Peng Mun Kit, 56.
Mr Peng also recognised her bag in the photo, saying: "It is the waterproof bag that she often carries. It is the bag that she took for this expedition." He added: "Before setting out, they had tied their bags together and packed them into the front compartment of the kayak.
"Everything was intact."
The Straits Times understands that the bags were found together with food rations that the duo had packed for the expedition, while four bottles of water were found in a separate compartment.
"Everybody is a bit happy now," said Mr Peng. "At least we know where the kayak ended up, which means the two of them could be around the area," he added.
"It is near Kuantan, on the coastline. The chances of (them) landing on an island or a beach are high."
But their son, who is with his father in Mersing, remained pensive.
"Definitely there is some hope, since there is a clue," said Mr Louis Pang, 24. "But it is actually not a very good sign that they found the kayak without them... We are still hoping for the best."
Madam Puah, a businesswoman, and Mr Tan, a retired lawyer, knew each other before the trip and had experience in open-water kayaking.
The kayak and items belonging to them will be transported to Penyabong jetty in Endau, Johor, where the families have been awaiting news of their loved ones.
After being alerted to the kayak by the fisherman yesterday, the missing Singaporeans' families notified the MMEA, which has been coordinating the search and rescue efforts. The agency got in touch with the fisherman.
The MMEA said three aircraft and nine vessels, with 122 personnel from various agencies were deployed for the fifth day of search and rescue operations yesterday, covering some 900 sq nautical miles - an area of about 3,000 sq km, or four times the size of Singapore.
Adm Aminuddin added that the ongoing search area would be adjusted based on the latest discovery.