MERSING (Johor) – As efforts were intensified yesterday to find the sole Singaporean still missing after the Boxing Day tragedy in Malaysia, the first accounts have emerged from survivors of the boat mishap that has now claimed the lives of four Singaporeans.
Choppy waters, a violent shaking of the boat and then the struggle in the water – for some, even a struggle to escape the boat cabin. The story was told while more than 130 personnel from various agencies in Mersing were out at sea to search for Mr Ng Kian Teck, 44.
Although the search was halted when darkness fell, Johor chief police officer Mohd Mokhtar Mohd Shariff told the media – and distraught family members, when he visited the operations room at Tanjong Leman ferry terminal in the afternoon – that the authorities would do whatever it takes to find Mr Ng.
"We’ll carry on as long as is needed to look for the missing person. I’ve also instructed the police to expedite investigations." he said.
He declined to comment on whether there were enough life jackets on the boat for the 29 passengers – including 19 Singaporeans – as investigations were ongoing, but it was clear that the boat travelling towards mainland from a kelong near Sibu island was overloaded.
One of the survivors, Mr Heng Lih Hooi, said he knew there were life jackets in the cabin – 12, according to his wife – but none of the passengers were wearing them, nor were they asked to.
"I think wearing the life jackets could probably have saved some of our friends," he told MediaCorp as he related the chaotic situation shortly before the boat capsized.
"About 15 to 20 minutes after we left the kelong, we experienced choppy waters. So the boat was actually shaking quite violently, especially left and right. At some time, the boatman asked some of us to go to the front of the boat. I think he was trying to balance the boat. And he called for the action two times."
The boat then sank and a rescue boat arrived 10 minutes later.
"Many of us were trying to struggle out of the cabin. And some of them actually broke the glass, the window, in order to climb out," said Mr Heng.
"I was more worried about my loved ones because my wife is a non-swimmer. I myself am a non-swimmer …
"The waves kept on splashing over (us) and we were drinking a lot of (sea) water. In fact, some of our relatives were admitted to hospital because of drinking too much sea water.
"I would say we cheated death this time round. We were lucky to survive."
He may not have been the only one. Singapore permanent resident and mechanic Mr Liang, together with his wife and 13-year-old daughter, were supposed to be on the boat that capsized, but decided to take a later boat after he overheard talk that the former was leaking, although investigations are still ongoing.
Earlier in the day, the body of the fourth Singaporean victim, Mr Tor Soon Kwee, 41, was recovered and identified by family members. Some distraught family members of the four victims gathered outside the mortuary at Mersing yesterday, while others came together at the ferry terminal to offer prayers. One Singaporeans remains warded in hospital
Mr Mokhtar said the authorities will form a committee to prevent a similar incident from happening again.