Updated at 4:32 p.m. ET on 2015-09-03
Indonesia will coordinate with Malaysia in search-and-rescue efforts for missing passengers after a boat sank Thursday in the Strait of Malacca, drowning at least 15 Indonesian migrant workers, an Indonesian diplomat said.
"The embassy will also contact the families of those who died, either to bury the victims in Malaysia or Indonesia,” Hermono, Indonesia’s deputy ambassador to Malaysia, told a news conference in Klang district, Selangor state, on Thursday.
"In addition, an Indonesian search-and-rescue team will also work with the MMEA [Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency] to locate missing passengers.”
Nineteen out of approximately 70 people on board the wooden boat were pulled out of the sea alive, after the vessel capsized and went down in bad weather off Malaysia’s western coast on Thursday morning (local time). At press time, some 36 people were still missing.
The Indonesian embassy sent a special team to the Sungai Sumun jetty in Hutang Melintang – in neighboring Perak state – where bodies of the dead were brought ashore, to get details about the victims, Hermono said.
Malaysia launched a search-and-rescue operation involving 12 ships, 200 personnel and a plane, but the mission was suspended at 7 p.m. Thursday because of darkness and rough seas, First Adm. Mohd. Aliyas Hamdan of the MMEA told the news conference in Klang.
The operation was to resume Friday at first light.
Most of the dead are women
The 12.2-metre-long (40-foot-long) boat carrying some 70 passengers – all believed to be migrant workers from Indonesia – capsized while sailing to Tanjungbalai, Sumatra, from Kuala Sungai Bernam, in Selangor, Aliyas told reporters.
Thirteen of the 15 people confirmed dead were women.
“We are still investigating the actual cause of the incident,” Aliyas said.
Local fishermen helped rescue some of the survivors, Agence France-Presse quoted him as saying.
“The MMEA received information from local fisherman at about 10:37 a.m., and conducted a rescue operation around the water,” he added.
Among the 19 who were rescued Thursday, only one was a woman, said Mohd. Shuhaily Mohd. Zain, the police chief for Hilir Perak district in Perak state. The lone female survivor, who is in her 30s, was being treated for injuries and trauma, he said.
The bodies of victims brought ashore were taken to the Raja Permaisuri Bainun Hospital (HRPB) in Ipoh, the state capital, where autopsies were to be done on them, the police chief said. The 19 survivors were sent to another local hospital for treatment, he added.
"After receiving treatment, some survivors of the tragedy were detained in the Hutan Melintang’s police station lockup to assist in the investigation,” Shuhaily added, noting that the survivors were believed to be illegal workers.
As many as two million Indonesians work in Malaysia without permits, laboring on palm oil plantations and other sectors, according to news reports. The Indonesians likely were going home ahead of the Idul Adha holiday later this month, an MMEA official said.
Aceh: Bangladeshi detainees flee
In other news related to illegal migration in the region, 15 Bangladeshi men escaped from a temporary shelter in the Indonesian province of Aceh, on Sumatra island, sources told BenarNews.
The migrants fled from the shelter in the city of Lhokseumawe around 3 a.m. Tuesday, but Indonesian officials only realized that they were missing the next day.
"That night, there was heavy rain in Lhokseumawe. It was used as an opportunity to run away, and, until now, they have not been found," said Husaini, a local volunteer working at the shelter.
The Bangladeshis were among hundreds of migrants from Bangladesh and ethnic Rohingyas from Myanmar who came ashore in Aceh, during a humanitarian crisis in Southeast Asia in May. It was spurred by a crackdown on human trafficking by Thai authorities after graves holding the remains of migrant workers were discovered in the jungle near Thailand’s border with Malaysia.
Thailand is a major transit point for the smuggling into Malaysia of undocumented migrants from Bangladesh and Myanmar. Many undertake dangerous sea journeys in rickety people-smuggling boats to reach their destination.
Nurdin Hasan contributed to this report.