Eight illegal immigrants have drowned when their boat capsized off Malaysia's southern coast, officials said Thursday. Eighteen others have been rescued.
Marine police official N.Kalai Chelvan said the boat was heading to Indonesia's Batam island early Wednesday when it sank in choppy waters. He said the boat was carrying a group of men from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq who were likely trying to reach Australia through Indonesia.
Chelvan said 14 men were initially believed to have drowned but officials later verified that only eight bodies were recovered from the sea. They included four Pakistanis and one Afghan, while the identities of the other victims have not been established.
Another 13 Afghans and five Iraqis were rescued close to the shore and investigations are ongoing to determine how many people are missing, Chelvan said. He said the men were believed to have entered Malaysia by land from Thailand.
Malaysia is a known transit point for people from impoverished or war-torn regions trying to get to Australia.
The New Straits Times newspaper quoted a 22-year-old Afghan known only as Sayed as saying that the 36-foot (11-meter) boat was rather small to fit the group but they were assured it was safe.
"The journey was initially smooth, but about two hours later, the sea became choppy and I could see water getting into the boat," he told the newspaper. "It was at this time that the boatman turned off the engine and everyone panicked. Suddenly, the boat started to sink. We all jumped into the water."