Tuesday, May 28, 2013

11 passengers still missing, 179 survivors

Survivors of an overturned boat accident are seen on a riverbank of Rajang River in Belaga, Sarawak State on Borneo Island, 28 May 2013. An overcrowded river ferry capsized 28 May in eastern Malaysia, leaving an unknown number of people feared missing. Some passengers swam to safety but more might be trapped inside the boat.

Survivors' accounts say 11 passengers are still missing in the express boat accident in the Rajang River near Belaga yesterday while 179 others managed to swim to shore as at this morning, said Sarawak Police of Commisioner Datuk Acryl Sani Abdullah Sani.

He said the search and rescue (SAR) operation involving 100 personnel from the police, fire services, health department, welfare department and Kapit Resident's Office, 11 rescue boats and 18 divers were still continuing at the accident spot, at the Jeram Tukok/Jeram Bungan, about four hours journey upriver from Sibu.

"We have yet to confirm if those still missing are trapped in the sunken express boat or have been swept away by the swift river currents upriver," he told reporters on the sidelines of the Sarawak state legislative assembly sitting here.

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He said the police would be gathering evidence under Section 304 of the Penal Code to determine if there was negligence on the part of the express boat operator for any deaths caused, with the assistance of the Sarawak Rivers Board (SRB).

It would be difficult to identify any possible victims as the operator concerned was believed to have not kept a passengers' list on board the overloaded ill-fated express boat, which crashed on a rock and subsequently sank.

Meanwhile Ba' Kelalan state assemblyman Baru Bian urged SRB to recruit more enforcement officers and to set up more offices in areas beyond Kapit to ensure regular riverine checks on express boats plying the Rajang River.

At present SRB enforcement officers had to be deployed in speed boats to conduct such riverine checks in upriver places like Bakun and Belaga, he said.

In conveying his deepest condolences to the families of those involved in the accident, he said, the people who depended solely on riverine transport could not afford anymore such tragedies as there had been too many such accidents.

He also urged the Marine department to review its procedure in approving the licences of express boat operators and drivers as well as the safety worthiness of these vessels.

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