Rescuers hunting for five missing Chinese tourists and a Malaysian crewman after a tourist boat sank in rough seas off eastern Malaysia have expanded the search area, an official said Monday.
The sinking of the catamaran off Sabah state on Borneo island on Saturday, the first day of the Lunar New Year holiday, sparked a major air and sea search covering some 400 nautical square miles.
Twenty exhausted Chinese tourists survived hours in the water thanks to their life jackets and by clinging desperately to objects from the boat, but three tourists died.
The skipper and another crew member were found alive Sunday off a nearby island, before the discovery of the other survivors.
"The search area is now 1,500 nautical square miles," Awil Kamsari, a spokesman for the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency, told AFP.
"They could have drifted further, so we have to expand the search area."
Around 100 officers from the agency, navy and air force are involved as well as a C-130 aircraft.
"We are hoping for some good news," an official from the Chinese consul-general's office in Sabah said, declining to comment further.
Part of the search area falls in Brunei waters and authorities there are using a helicopter to hunt for the missing six, Awil added.
The search was postponed due to rough seas on Sunday night but resumed Monday morning.
The boat with 31 aboard had left the Sabah state capital Kota Kinabalu for Pulau Mengalum, an island known for its pristine beaches and dive sites.
The boat owner reported it missing on Saturday evening.
The skipper said the boat had "broken" and sank after being hit by big waves.
Late Sunday, authorities announced three Chinese passengers were dead.
Twenty Chinese tourists were rescued and taken to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Kota Kinabalu.
A Malaysian official in Sabah told AFP the Chinese "looked shocked" and some of them "could not walk and looked very tired" as they were taken to hospital.
He said they survived because of their life jackets and by clinging on to objects from the boat.
State Tourism, Culture and Environment Assistant Minister Pang Yuk Ming said the survivors were stable.
"In such a situation, you can imagine the amount of distress one goes through," he said.
"They are all in non-critical condition and stable."
The minister also said authorities are checking whether the catamaran had sailed from a jetty in Kota Kinabalu that is intended for tourist trips to nearby islands.
Malaysian authorities said they would hold a press conference later in the afternoon.