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KOTA TINGGI, MAY 21, 2015:

Stormy sea conditions and strong currents are hampering search and rescue efforts for 14 seamen feared drowned after their sand laden barge Ocean Line 208turned turtle in waters east off Tanjung Punggai today.

The joint SAR team, with divers from the marine police and also Malaysian Navy, could not access the overturned ships’ hull to check for survivors due to strong undercurrents.

It was later decided to use tug boats to tow the overturned sand barge to shallow waters from its present location about eight nautical miles off Tanjung Punggai.

Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) Maritime District VII operations director Commander Mustafa Kamal Abas said the Marine Department vessel is in the process of towing the overturned barge.

“The divers will then try to access the barge’s hull once nearing the coast,” he said.

Search and rescue operations resumed soon after daybreak today but were called off at 4pm.

Authorities believe the sand barge was overladen with sand when hit by strong waves early yesterday.

The Bolivian-registeredOcean Line 208vessel was struck by huge waves at 4.20am.

There were 14 Chinese nationals and a Malaysian on board. The barge was bound for Pengerang from Teluk Ramunia.

The MMEA immediately launched a SAR operation shortly after being alerted by the Johor Port authorities.

The mishap also saw the rescue of a worker by a passing vessel. The worker, a Chinese national, has been identified as Li Guozheng, 51. The other 14 crew members have yet to be found.

According to the barge manifest, the sole Malaysian working on the ill-fated barge was identified as radioman Raja Mohammad Firdaus, 23.

Yesterday, SAR efforts were hampered due to bad weather.

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