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Boat with 31 mostly Chinese tourists missing in Malaysia

A boat carrying 31 people, including up to 28 Chinese tourists, has gone missing in the waters off Borneo. A search and rescue operation has been launched.

The captain and a crew member of the tourist boat made it to safety Sunday while others were drifting in the water waiting to be rescued, authorities said.

The Chinese consulate in Kota Kinabalu said multiple survivors "were reported drifting at sea waiting for rescue," the official Xinhua News Agency reported. 

The boat lost contact after leaving the city in the Malaysian state of Sabah on Saturday morning. 

Chinese state television said the crew reported helping passengers put on life jackets as the boat was sinking, then tried to look for help.

The two who were rescued were found Sunday afternoon in the water between the island of Pulau Tiga and an offshore oil drilling platform, Malaysia's "The Star Online" reported. 

The boat was reportedly bound for Pulau Mengalum, an island about 60 kilometers (38 miles) west of the Kota Kinabal.

Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) deputy director Rahim Ramli said the boat was reported missing at about 9:50 pm local time after failing to arrive at the island, and that a search and rescue operation had been launched soon after. 

Bad weather has, however, been hampering the search effort, which covers an area of about 400 nautical square miles, he added.

"We are looking at strong winds and choppy waters, and have requested assistance from the air force to conduct an aerial search," Ramli said.

MMEA said there were 28 Chinese tourists on board, but the Chinese Consulate could only confirm the passport details of 18 Chinese citizens.

Malaysia navy chief Ahmad Kamarulzaman Ahmad Badaruddin posted on Twitter that it was "so sad as it happened on CNY (Chinese New Year)" and said navy ships and a C130 aircraft were searching for missing boat. 

"I, like all the relatives of those on board, am hoping for progress in the search and rescue operation," Sabah's Tourism Minister Masidi Manjun told AFP. 

"Our forces are trying their best."

Pulau Mengalum is a popular tourist destination known for its clear waters. 

ss,aw/rc (AFP, AP, Reuters)