KUALA LUMPUR: The commander of a Malaysian gunboat that went missing a day ago has confirmed the safety of all seven crew onboard after establishing radio contact, but rough seas were hampering rescue operations, the navy said Monday.
The vessel went missing after it set out for a routine sea patrol in the South China Sea on Sunday near Mengalum island off eastern Sabah state on Borneo island.
“The boat and crew members are safe,” navy chief Abdul Aziz Jaafar said on Twitter.
The vessel’s commander confirmed that in a radio message, Jaafar said, adding that strong waves were preventing rescue ships from reaching the stricken gunboat.
In an earlier statement, the navy said that the missing gunboat was on its way to its operational area in Layang Layang atoll, which is part of the disputed Spratly islands in the South China Sea.
China claims almost all of the sea, a vital avenue for world trade that is also believed to harbor vast oil and gas reserves.
But its claims overlap in parts with those of Malaysia, as well as the Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam and Taiwan.
The gunboat had departed from its base with another fast-attack craft KD Paus early Sunday, the New Straits Times said Monday.
Officials believe it lost contact with the base after being hit by strong waves, according to the newspaper.