…As Malaysia intercepts boat ferrying 202 suspected Rohingya***
Five bodies have been found during the search for 27 people that were swept overboard from an inter-island ferry that was travelling during a weather warning in the Solomon Islands.
The bodies which include three females and two males were recovered on Sunday from the sea near Malaita Province, Solomon Islands Police said in a statement.
“They were among 27 missing from the MV Taimareho, which was travelling from the capital Honiara to Malaita late Thursday.
“The search will be suspended overnight and resume Monday morning,” the police said.
The ferry, carrying more than 700 passengers and cargo, was travelling in rough seas due to tropical Cyclone Harold despite warnings from the weather bureau not to set sail.
“A cyclone warning was sent out,” Brian Aonima, from the Solomon Islands Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre, told Radio New Zealand.
“Also, our Port Authority announced that all ships tonight should not move.”
Authorities and local media said people were leaving the densely populated capital for their home islands in droves after Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare announced the country would go into lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Late Thursday, the “only ship that made it out from here was the Taimareho,” Aonima said, adding the captain found out about them only after a headcount at the port of disembarkation.
Cyclone Harold is now heading towards Vanuatu.
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In the meantime, Malaysian authorities on Sunday said they had intercepted a boat ferrying a group of 202 people believed to be ethnic Rohingya.
Malaysia, which does not recognise refugee status, is a favoured destination for ethnic Rohingya, fleeing a military-led crackdown in Myanmar and squalid conditions at refugee camps in Bangladesh.
“The boat was found adrift around one nautical mile from a luxury beachside resort on the holiday island of Langkawi, off the west coast of the Malaysian peninsula,’’ the Malaysian maritime enforcement agency said in a statement.
The group included 152 men, 45 women and five children.
All 202 have been detained at the coastguard’s Kedah state headquarters.
“The group will be handed over to immigration authorities for attempting to enter the country illegally,’’ the coastguard said.
The agency said it would also investigate complaints from the migrants about three alleged members of a migrant smuggling syndicate, who escaped from the boat while out at sea.
In February, no fewer than 15 Rohingya refugees died when a vessel carrying about 130 people capsized in the Bay of Bengal while trying to reach Malaysia.