KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — More than two dozen people were rescued Sunday more than a day after a boat carrying Chinese tourists disappeared in Malaysian waters, officials and local media said.
Four people among the 31 on board were still missing, Malaysia's The Star Online reported.
The captain and a crew member made it to safety earlier Sunday while authorities said others may be drifting in the water waiting to be rescued.
Sabah state's Assistant Tourism Minister Datuk Pang Yuk Ming told the news website that 25 other individuals were rescued Sunday afternoon.
"Most of them were picked up from the sea in waters off Labuan," he said. They were found in groups of five and 10 people, Pang said.
Several Malaysian navy and police ships and at least one plane had been searching for the boat, the Malaysia Maritime Enforcement Agency said in a statement.
A maritime official said the rescuers were being hindered by high winds and choppy waters. The search area is about 400 square nautical miles (nearly 1,400 square kilometers) of the South China Sea.
The captain and a crew member were found Sunday afternoon between the island of Pulau Tiga and an offshore oil drilling platform, The Star reported. The boat had left Kota Kinabalu in Sabah state on Saturday morning on its way to Pulau Mengalum, an island about 60 kilometers (38 miles) west.
The Chinese consulate in Kota Kinabalu said multiple survivors "were reported drifting at sea waiting for rescue," the official Xinhua News Agency reported. Chinese state television said the crew reported helping passengers put on life jackets as the boat was sinking, then tried to look for help.
Malaysia deployed search and rescue ships and helicopters after receiving a call Saturday night about the boat's disappearance, Xinhua reported.
Arwin Musbir, the captain of another boat that left for Pulau Mengalum at the same time, told the New Straits Times newspaper that he was following the missing boat but lost sight of it shortly after they left. He said he realized it had gone missing only after he arrived at the island.
The maritime agency official said 28 Chinese passengers and three crew were on board. The official declined to be named because he isn't authorized to speak to the media.
Many Chinese travel abroad during the Lunar New Year holiday, which began Saturday.
Associated Press writer Nomaan Merchant in Beijing contributed to this report.