The bodies of nine more Indonesians who drowned after their boat sank off Malaysia’s west coast were recovered Friday, bringing the death toll in Thursday’s accident to 24, according to Malaysian and Indonesian officials.
Search teams also rescued another survivor from Strait of Malacca waters, after pulling out 19 other survivors the day before.
The teams still were searching for some 30 other Indonesians who went missing when a 12.2-metre-long (40-foot-long) wooden boat capsized and sank Thursday morning, during a trip from Kuala Sungai Bernam, in Malaysia’s Selangor state, to Tanjungbalai, on the Indonesian island of Sumatra.
Amnesty or detention?
All of the passengers aboard the boat were believed to be Indonesians working without permits in Malaysia.
On Friday, Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said the government would give amnesty to the illegal migrants affected by the accident, and help them arrange one-way passages home, so as to prevent such a tragedy from recurring.
"This is a government initiative to grant amnesty to illegal immigrants, but if they intend to return, they will have to apply in accordance with the stipulated procedure and obtain a temporary work permit," Zahid said after observing search-and-rescue operations from the Sungai Sumun jetty in Hutang Melintang, Perak state.
"So, in cooperation with the embassy of Indonesia, the one-way document, a transit document, will be given to them and they will be ushered back to their homeland," he said.
However, Malaysian authorities were holding the 19 who were rescued on Thursday for questioning. A court in Kuala Selangor on Friday issued arrest warrants against the 19 survivors and ordered that they be remanded for 14 days.
The ship's captain was among those being held, and he will be investigated under the country’s human trafficking laws, a spokesman for the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) said.
Jakarta looking to repatriate survivors soon
However, the Indonesian government is hoping that Malaysian authorities will pardon the survivors of the shipwreck on humanitarian grounds and let them go home soon, Hermono, Indonesia’s deputy ambassador to Malaysia, told BenarNews.
"We ask that they not be prosecuted, given their traumatized condition. These are relatives of those who died, and they themselves are victims. In principle, this has already been approved," Hermono said in a phone interview.
The majority of the survivors are from Aceh province, on Sumatra, he said.
Hermono is heading up a task force that is assisting the victims.
"The team has already met (the survivors) in Klang (Selangor), recorded data, and will be contacting their families. Some have already contacted their families," he said.
Hata Wahari contributed to this report.