An overcrowded wooden boat carrying Indonesians home in a storm sank in choppy seas off Malaysia's west coast early Wednesday, leaving at least 28 people missing and at least five dead, Malaysian officials said.
Local media reported the boat, carrying nearly 100 suspected illegal Indonesian immigrants, sank off the Malaysian coast on Wednesday.
Rescuers were scouring the area for survivors and had deployed a helicopter, one large ship and eight smaller boats in the operation.
Strait of Malacca, Malaysia
The boat, whose passengers included women and children, sank at the mouth of a river shortly after midnight as it left Malaysia's Carey Island, likely bound for Indonesia's Sumatra island, officials and witnesses said.
The passengers in the boat were believed to be heading home before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Malaysian officials said.
Police said the boat lacked safety equipment such as life jackets, but that rescuers were still holding out hope of finding more survivors.
Mohammed Hambali Yaakup, the head of operations in the area for the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA), said the rescue will continue until all passengers on board are accounted for.
Hambali said he could not confirm reports that a people-smuggling gang had been involved with the boat. But all 60 survivors have been arrested under immigration laws.
Malaysia, one of Southeast Asia's wealthier economies, has long been a magnet for illegal immigrants from Indonesia and other poorer countries in the region.
Tens of thousands of Indonesians work without legal permits in plantations and other industries in Malaysia, and they travel between the countries by crossing the narrow Strait of Malacca, often in poorly equipped boats.
Many undocumented Indonesians work in Malaysia's extensive oil palm plantations, a mainstay of its economy.
Despite periodic crackdowns on illegal workers, Malaysia is home to an estimated 2 million undocumented immigrants or about 7 percent of its 29 million population.
Some information for this report provided by Reuters and AP.