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Monday, May 9, 2016

Search for missing four off Sabah coast goes underwater

KOTA KINABALU - After a full week, the authorities are mounting an undersea search for four people who went missing off the north Sabah coast of Kudat.

Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) Sabah and Labuan regional director First Admiral Mohd Zubil Mat Som said that a team of divers from MMEA and the Malaysian Navy are searching in the area where fishermen found a speedboat engine yesterday.

“The divers started searching underwater at 7am, within the same area where the engine was found yesterday. Unfortunately the marker buoy had drifted from the marked position.

“The underwater search and rescue team made three attempts from morning till noon but have not found the boat,” he said.

Visibility underwater in the area was low at about five metres and 45 metres deep, with a sandy bottom as deep as a foot.

Authorities are now deploying a fishing boat into the area to trawl the bottom of the sea until they find a large vessel before they send their divers down.

The owner of a resort in Kudat’s Tanjung Simpang Mengayau, better known as the tip of Borneo — Tommy Lam Wai Yin, 44, two Spaniards — David Hernandes Gasula, 29, and Marta Miguel, 30 — believed to be Lam’s guests, and a Malaysian named Armella Ali Hassan, 23, believed to be a staff of the resort disappeared last Monday after a day trip to the lesser known Balambangan island, some two hours away by boat.

The quartet were reported missing last Monday and a search-and-rescue operation kicked off Tuesday for the boat now believed to have capsized in inclement weather.

Yesterday local fishermen found a 3-horse power speedboat engine trapped in their nets that belonged to Lam’s boat, some 2.6 nautical miles from Pulau Balambangan, however the vessel was too heavy to be carried or dragged.

Search authorities had to give up the boat as night fell and marked the spot with buoys.

The multi-agency search including the MMEA, Malaysian navy, fire and rescue services department, marine police and air force which have deployed sea vessels — the KM Memmon, KM Ikhlas Cenderawasih, Kilat 1, KD Sri Johor, KD Perak, RH 18, RH 49, a Beachcraft and two boats aluminum boats  — along with a Dauphin helicopter are still combing some 400 nautical miles of sea in search of the boat’s occupants.

A family friend of Lam’s said that the resort owner had previously made day trips to the island of Balambangan, which they were thinking of developing as a tourist attraction due to the cave systems and historical value of the island.

Family members of Lam and Armella have been keeping vigil in Kudat while relatives of the Spanish couple are being flown in today.

By Julia Chan

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