World Bulletin / News Desk
According to the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA), 34 people were rescued after the vessel carrying more than 60 “illegal immigrants” sank at 9.45 p.m. (0145GMT) Saturday.
"Search and rescue teams recovered the bodies of two men and two women as of Sunday afternoon, adding to the four that were found after the incident," it said in a statement.
Those rescued were placed in the custody of the immigration department to be investigated under the Immigration Act 1959/63 and the Anti-Trafficking In Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants Act 2007, as it works with the Indonesian Consulate on the repatriation and documentation process.
Of the 34 survivors -- including 26 men and eight women aged between 20 and 50 -- only three were reported to possess travel documents.
MMEA said search and rescue operations are underway in a three nautical mile area of the region’s beaches.
State Immigration Department Director Rohaizi Bahari said the illegal immigrants, who were reportedly traveling to Indonesia’s Batam island across the Singapore Strait, were believed to have paid 500-1,200 ($123-295) ringgit to local and foreign skippers for the boat passage.
"They would be gathered in a forest area before being brought out of the country using an ungazetted route,” he said in a separate statement.
"The victims said the boat was hit by a big wave of between one to two meters causing the vessel to overturn,” he added. "They were later rescued by villagers and the MMEA personnel before being handed over to the army."
Official records show that up to December last year, the number of documented foreign workers in Malaysia was 2.135 million -- but the government estimates that for every 10 of those documented, there are eight illegal immigrants, or some 1.7 million.
The majority of Malaysia’s foreign workforce is from Indonesia, India, Thailand, Cambodia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Vietnam.