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Saturday, May 14, 2016

Ordeal at sea: What actually happened?

KOTA KINABALU - Investigators are piecing together what actually happened to the four missing people who were found safe on a Vietnamese fishing trawler amid one of the largest sea search and rescue operations in Sabah.

Differing accounts of their 11-day ordeal are emerging with some claiming that they were drifting in open South China Sea for nine days while others claim it was only three days before they were rescued by the Vietnamese fishermen encroaching on Malaysian waters.

However, what is clear for now is that their boat had overturned in strong waves and thrown all overboard, including their fresh water stock. But, they managed to right the boat before boarding it again. They remained adrift until the Vietnamese fishermen picked them up in an area south of Malaysia’s Layang-Layang.

They had been reported missing while on a speedboat ride from Pulau Balambangan to Simpang Mengayau (northern Tip of Borneo) at about 5pm on May 2.

“We need to put everything together from A to Z before we say anything. At the moment there are so many conflicting reports,” Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) Sabah and Labuan regional director First Admiral Mohd Zubil Mat Som said.

He said his investigators were allowing the four to settle down before recording their statements.

“We need to talk to them individually to figure out what happened as each could be giving different versions,” Zubil said.

The navy’s Region 2 Commander Rear Admiral Khairul Anwar Yahya said that the assumption was that they drifted nine days at sea before they were rescued by the Vietnamese in waters south of Layang-Layang, about 200 nautical miles from here.

“It takes a lot of survival skills to survive without water or food in open seas,” he said.

They were picked up by MMEA and navy boats at 6pm on Thursday from the Vietnamese fishermen in Malaysian waters close to the Vietnamese border in the disputed Spratly area. They were taken to Layang-Layang before being flown here.

It is understood that they began drifting after encountering engine trouble shortly after leaving Pulau Balambangan on May 2 and a search and rescue operation was launched the next morning where they were spotted drifting within the area in the late afternoon by an aircraft carrying out the search.

However, two hours later when vessels arrived in the area they could not be located and it is now believed that the boat capsized on the second day, sources explained.

Subsequently, they drifted into open waters of the South China Sea and they might have been picked up by the Vietnamese fishing boats on the third day, the sources said, explaining that the fishermen did not raise the alert because they were in Malaysian waters illegally.

However, it is understood that the fishermen gave all necessary medical assistance to the four suffering from sunburn and dehydration and they had recovered from their ordeal while on the Vietnamese boat.

Malaysian medics who received them said they were complaining more about sunburn than any other health issues though Armella Ali Hassan was given drips at Layang-Layang for exhaustion.

Tommy Lam, who was in high spirits, had told people around him on arrival that he wanted to go to Vietnam to thank the fishermen who saved their lives.

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