Kuala Lumpur — An overloaded ferry capsized after hitting rocks in a remote river in Malaysia's part of tropical Borneo island on Tuesday, leaving an unknown number of people missing, police said. Some survivors swam ashore, and a search was underway.
The vessel was believed to be carrying much more than its recommended limit of 74 passengers, said Bakar Sibau, a district police chief in Malaysia's Sarawak state.
Bakar said there appeared to be dozens of survivors, but he did not have exact numbers. Some people swam ashore, and police divers, fire department officers and villagers were searching for the missing passengers.
"We hope they will be OK," Bakar said of the missing.
The boat was packed because many people are heading to their home villages for a harvest festival holiday that Borneo's indigenous tribes will celebrate later this week, Bakar said.
Rom Kulleh, a political aide who flew in a helicopter over the river shortly after the accident, said he and his state legislator boss saw the overturned boat.
"We spotted some people being saved by villagers in smaller boats," Rom told the AP.
The accident occurred midway through a 130km journey that usually takes about three hours.
Rivers form the main transportation network for hundreds of thousands of people in sprawling Sarawak. Public concerns about safety, including the enforcement of rules for ferry capacity, have occasionally emerged, but major boat accidents in Sarawak are rare.
Borneo island is divided among three countries: Indonesian territory in the south, two Malaysian states in the north and tiny Brunei on the north coast.