MERSING - A fisherman has found the green kayak belonging to two Singaporeans missing since Thursday (Aug 8), but the whereabouts of Mr Tan Eng Soon, 62, and 57-year-old Madam Puah Geok Tin remain unclear.
The Straits Times understands that the kayak was found on the Kuantan coastline, which is more than 200km from Mersing, Johor, where the pair had set off from with a group of 13 other kayakers from Singapore taking advantage of the long weekend.
The Straits Times understands that the kayak was found upside down in open water before the fisherman towed it back to shore. A paddle was found inside the kayak, along with other items that belong to the two kayakers. These include Mr Tan's bag, which held his handphone and wallet. In his wallet was cash and his PAssion card.
The families of the two missing Singaporeans were alerted to the discovery when the fisherman used the missing man's phone to contact them via a WhatsApp chat group that they had set up. He also sent them pictures of the kayak and the belongings.
"The moment I saw the kayak (in the photo), I knew it was theirs," said Mr Peng Mun Kit, who is Madam Puah's husband.
Mr Peng, 56, added that he also recognised a bag he believes is his wife's.
"It's the waterproof bag that she often carries. It is the bag that she took with her for this expedition," he added.
He said the bags were found in the front compartment of the kayak. "Before setting out, they had tied their bags together and packed them into the front compartment of the kayak."
"It was intact. Everything was intact."
ST understands the bags were found together with food rations that the pair 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.
"Because at least we know where the kayak ended up which means the two of them could be around the area," he added.
"And it's near Kuantan, on the coastline. The chances of (them) landing on an island or beach is high."
However his son, who is with his father in Mersing, remains pensive.
"Definitely there's some hope, since there's a clue," said Mr Louis Pang, 24. "But it's actually not a very good sign that they found the kayak without them (the kayakers). It's mixed feelings. We're still hoping for the best."
The personal belongings are en route to Penyabong Jetty in Endau, Johor, for identification by the family members, and are due to arrive around 7pm on Tuesday (Aug 13).
After being alerted by the fisherman, the families informed the Malaysia Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA), which has been carrying out search and rescue efforts since last Friday.
It is understood that the MMEA has contacted the fisherman to assist in the search and rescue efforts.
The Malaysian authorities said on Monday (Aug 12) that more aircraft have been deployed, covering 900 square nautical miles between the east and north of Pulau Tioman in Pahang. This is about 3,000 sq km, or four times the size of Singapore.
The operation on Sunday had covered 500 square nautical miles in the same area and involved only one aircraft. Relatives of the two missing kayakers are in Mersing assisting with search efforts.
The two were separated from the group in the Endau waters off Mersing during rough conditions which saw strong winds and choppy waters lashing at their kayak.
Madam Puah, a businesswoman, and Mr Tan, a retired lawyer, knew each other before the trip and are said to have had some experience in kayaks in open waters.
Additional reporting by Clara Chong