Shipwreck survivors made human chain for 10 hours
Twenty-two people wore life jackets and formed a human chain at sea for more than 10 hours before being rescued off Malaysia's coast after their boat sank yesterday.
Authorities said three bodies were recovered and six other people were missing.
The boat left Kota Kinabalu in Sabah state at 9am on Saturday on its way to Pulau Mengalum, an island about 60km west, and was reported missing about 12 hours later.
The captain and a crew member were spotted by a military plane and rescued by another tourist boat yesterday afternoon, according to government minister Shahidan Kassim and the Malaysia Maritime Enforcement Agency.
Fishermen found 20 survivors and three people dead - two men and a woman - the agency said.
The survivors had huddled together in groups and were wearing life jackets.
The agency said they had been adrift for 10 hours but did not say when the boat sank or give other details of what happened during the other hours since the boat departed.
Mr Shahidan said search efforts were being intensified, including using surveillance planes which can see in the dark.
The search area is about 400 square nautical miles of the South China Sea.
Arwin Musbir, the captain of another boat that left for Pulau Mengalum at the same time, told the 'New Straits Times' newspaper that he was following the missing boat but lost sight of it shortly after they left.
He said he realised it had gone missing only after he arrived at the island.
Twenty-eight of the 31 on board were Chinese, with three crew members.
Many Chinese travel abroad during the Lunar New Year holiday, which began Saturday.
"According to the skipper, the boat was 'broken' after being hit by strong waves, and sank. All the tourists were tied together and were carried away by the currents," Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency director-general Ahmad Puzi Ab Kahar told a news conference in Kota Kinabalu. Ahmad Puzi said authorities were investigating the sinking of the catamaran and whether it should have been used as a tourist vessel.
The head of the Malaysian navy, Ahmad Kamarulzaman Ahmad Badaruddin, said ships and a C130 aircraft had been searching for those still missing.
Authorities said the hunt had been hampered by rough seas and strong winds in the search area.
Chinese President Xi Jinping "demanded all-out search and rescue efforts" by Malaysia, according to China's official Xinhua news agency.
Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak has said he is monitoring developments closely.