Malaysian maritime authorities on Sunday recovered the body of an Indonesian woman, raising the confirmed death toll from two boat accidents to 16 with dozens of others still missing.
Two boats taking illegal immigrants back to neighbouring Indonesia’s Sumatra island for the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan capsized early Wednesday off Malaysia’s west coast in two separate incidents.
Sixteen people are confirmed dead, while 83 others have been rescued so far and 25 remain missing, said Mohamad Hambali Yaakup, an official with the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency.
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“The body we found today is a woman,” he said. “We will keep on doing our search and rescue operation.”
Both boats were overloaded — with one transporting 97 people, more than three times its capacity — and sank in rough seas near Port Klang, the country’s main port.
Police on Friday detained two Indonesian men believed to be the shipping agent and coordinator of the boat that carried 97 people. They are being investigated under the anti-trafficking and smuggling of migrants act.
Around two million illegal migrants, mostly from Indonesia and other poorer regional countries, are estimated to be working in Malaysia — taking up low-paying jobs on plantations, construction sites, factories and other places.
Boat accidents are frequent as they embark on rickety, overloaded vessels under cover of night to avoid border patrols.
Large numbers of Indonesians return home annually for Ramadan and next month’s Eid al-Fitr, Islam’s biggest festival. Both Malaysia and Indonesia are Muslim-majority.