By Rozanna Latiff and Elias Glenn
KUALA LUMPUR/BEIJING (Reuters) - Three Chinese tourists have been found dead and five, along with one Malaysian crew member, are still missing after their boat sank in rough seas off the coast of Borneo a day earlier, Malaysian officials said on Sunday.
Twenty Chinese nationals and two crew members were rescued on Sunday, the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency director-general Ahmad Puzi Ab Kahar said in a statement, correcting an earlier announcement that rescuers had found 23 Chinese nationals alive.
The boat, a catamaran, had failed to arrive at popular tourist spot Mengalum island after departing Kota Kinabalu, the capital of the eastern Malaysian state of Sabah, on Saturday morning.
Its Malaysian skipper, rescued along with a crew member at around 2 p.m. (0100 EST) on Sunday, told the authorities the boat sank after being damaged in turbulent waters, Ahmad Puzi told reporters in Sabah earlier.
“According to the skipper, the boat was ‘broken’ after being hit by strong waves, and sank. All the tourists were tied together and were carried away by the currents,” he said.
Ahmad Puzi said authorities were investigating the sinking of the catamaran and whether it should have been used as a tourist vessel.
“The weather conditions were quite bad with very high waves, which raises the question as to whether the boat should have gone out to sea,” said Malaysia’s national security minister Shahidan Kassim, who was present at the news conference.
Shahidan said authorities would deploy search assets that can operate at night, in order to locate those who were still missing.
The Malaysian navy, maritime police and air force were involved in the search, which covered 400 nautical miles.
The search had been hampered by strong winds and choppy waters, officials said.
“Time is critical considering the bad weather,” Malaysian navy chief Ahmad Kamarulzaman Ahmad Badaruddin told Reuters when contacted.
Chinese President Xi Jinping called on his country’s government departments to step up cooperation with their Malaysian counterparts on rescue efforts, official state news agency Xinhua reported.
The China National Tourism Administration said it has initiated emergency response procedures.
(Editing by Stephen Coates and Raissa Kasolowsky)