Boat with 28 Chinese tourists missing in Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur (AFP) - The skipper and a crewman from a tourist boat that went missing off Malaysia were found alive Sunday but an air and sea search was continuing for some 28 Chinese passengers.

Strong winds and choppy seas were hampering the search for the catamaran, which went missing in poor weather off Borneo island on Saturday morning -- the first day of the Lunar New Year.

It had left Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia's Sabah state en route for Pulau Mengalum, an island known for its pristine beaches and dive sites.

"The owner of the boat reported it missing on Saturday evening and we have begun a search and rescue mission," said Awil Kamsari, a spokesman for the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency.

The skipper and one of two crew members who had been aboard were found alive on Sunday afternoon in waters off a nearby island, the agency said.

Their condition was unknown and no further details were provided.

China's consulate general's office in Sabah, citing information from Malaysian authorities, said via a statement that the catamaran is suspected to have sunk after an accident near some islands.

It also claimed that multiple passengers were ?adrift awaiting rescue? but provided no further details.

Malaysian authorities said they will hold a press conference in Sabah Sunday evening.

China's foreign ministry said "around 20" of its nationals were aboard. Its state news agency Xinhua said an emergency team, led by an official from the national tourism administration, had been set up to handle the incident.

An area of 400 nautical square miles is being searched with officers from the maritime agency, the police, the navy and the air force involved.

Malaysian navy chief Ahmad Kamarulzaman Ahmad Badaruddin tweeted that it was "so sad as it happened on CNY (Chinese New Year)" and said navy ships and a C130 aircraft were on site for the search.

"I, like all the relatives of those on board, am hoping for progress in the search and rescue operation," Sabah's tourism minister Masidi Manjun told AFP.

"Our forces are trying their best."

However bad weather was hampering the search, authorities said.

China's foreign ministry said its consulate-general in Kota Kinabalu had contacted Malaysian authorities and urged them to do everything they could to rescue the tourists.

"Yesterday was the first day of the Chinese Lunar New Year and it should have been a happy day. Unfortunately, such a bad thing happened," China's consul-general in Sabah, Chen Peijie, was quoted as saying by state news agency Bernama.

The incident came about a week after a boat tragedy off the southern Malaysian state of Johor.

Several bodies washed ashore at a beach near the east coast town of Mersing in Johor on Monday after a boat believed to be carrying some 40 Indonesian illegal immigrants capsized in rough seas.

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