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September 24, 2017

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35 missing in two boat accidents off Malaysia

PORT KLANG, Malaysia--Malaysian authorities on Thursday were searching for 35 people missing at sea following two boat accidents, at a time when many illegal migrant workers head home to Indonesia for the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

In the latest reported incident, nine people were missing off western Malaysia after a boat, believed to be bound for the Indonesian island of Sumatra, sank said Mohamad Hambali Yaakup, an official with the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA).

A passing vessel, MMEA boats and a helicopter rescued eighteen people Thursday, he said. Three of them were hospitalized, while the rest are in the MMEA's custody.

Another maritime official, Hamid Mohamad Amin, said interviews with survivors revealed that the boat sank amid strong winds near the district of Sepang, south of the capital Kuala Lumpur, early Wednesday — and not early Thursday as originally reported.

The accident came to light as authorities expanded a search for survivors of another boat — also bound for Sumatra — that sank just up the coast near Port Klang, the country's main sea port, with 97 Indonesians aboard, also early on Wednesday.

Nine bodies have been found after that accident, while 26 remain missing, though officials believe some of them made it to land — it sank near the Malaysian shore — and fled the area to avoid being apprehended by authorities.

Overloaded Boats

Officials said they were still investigating the accidents, but both boats sank in rough seas and were overloaded — with the first one carrying more than three times its capacity.

Masri, a survivor from the second accident who like many Indonesians only has one name, said the boat's engine stopped suddenly about an hour and a half into the journey and water started seeping in.

"The passengers panicked because many couldn't swim. The sudden movement onboard caused the boat to tip over," said the chicken seller, 36, who held on to an empty fuel plastic container for about 28 hours until he was rescued.

Large numbers of Indonesians — many of them illegal migrants — return home annually from Malaysia for Ramadan, which this year begins around the end of June and will culminate in late July with Eid al-Fitr, Islam's biggest festival.

Both Malaysia and Indonesia have a Muslim majority.

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