by Xue Fei, Lin Hao
KOTA KINABALU, Malaysia, Jan. 30 (Xinhua) -- In darkness early on Monday, a vessel flashing blue alarm light slowly left a jetty of Kota Kinabalu, capital of Malaysia's Sabah state on North Borneo.
It suddenly started to accelerate with a roaring engine, soon disappeared in darkness, leaving those who watching it behind.
The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency vessel was to guide a fishing boat carrying Chinese tourists who were rescued earlier on Sunday into the jetty. They were scheduled to arrive early Monday.
"It would take approximately two hours for the fishing boat to reach the jetty," Oh Ei Sun, President of Malaysia-China friendship association Sabah, told anxious reporters, kept behind security fences.
The tourists were traveling on a boat from Kota Kinabalu to Pulau Mengalum, a popular tourist island some 60 km to the west when they went missing on Saturday, the first day of Chinese lunar new year.
After intense search and rescue efforts, reports emerged that they were rescued by a fishing boat, the boat that people on the jetty were expecting.
The lights on the jetty made it feel like daytime. The gathering search and rescue personnel, medical staff and media reporters made surprisingly little noise, but whisper and sounds of camera shutters.
People were also waiting for the confirmation that three of the passengers had been found passed away. One could easily smell the tense in the air.
"I have never thought such things could happen," a reporter of the local Sinchew Daily said. "Such incidents seldom happen here. In my memory, it has been almost 10 years without such sinking boat accident."
A 20-meter fishing boat slowly emerged from the darkness and approached the dock, stirring up the orderly crowd.
"Is this the ship?" China's Consul-General Chen Peijie, who had been waiting at the jetty, asked the Malaysian officials next to her. It was already 10 minute to 2:00 on early Monday morning.
The boat with black smoke and heavy smell finally came to a stop at the jetty. First in sight were several Chinese tourists with heavy sunburn and three bodies fully covered in clothes.
Chen quickly stepped toward the boat, reaching out her hands to help a middle-aged woman to get on shore. The woman had messy hair and looked weak and tired.
Medical staffs put her on the stretcher soon to have a check-up.
"Careful, careful, don't take off her clothes," the Chinese diplomat said to the staffs carrying a Chinese tourist on stretcher.
"Their skin and clothes have stuck together after severe sunburn, don't make further injury."
A tired-looking man leaned on the roofing of the ship. Hardly could see any excitement on his sun-burned face for someone who had just cheated death.
"Lying here is my wife," he looked down to the body next to his feet as his voice choked with sob. "We were separated by waves when the boat sinked," he said, "She didn't make it."
"I am Wei," another surviving tourist said to the first man, referring to his own surname. "My mother is gone."
"I am He," said the first man. Looking at each other, silence emerged between the two survivors.
One by one, the survivors were taken on shore as the ambulances ferried them to hospital.
A dark-skinned young man was surrounded by media. His name was Larahe Lakule, the fisherman who rescued the tourists.
"I was going down to the cabin to have some food when I spotted there seemed to be people asking for help some distance away," he said.
"As we sailed near, we discovered more than a dozen people drifting together. We also found three bodies after rescuing the survivors on board."
At the hospital, Fizah had preliminary examinations for the survivors. "They were all injured to different degrees, notably severe sunburn and bruises caused by wearing the clothes and life jackets for too long," said the doctor. "Besides, they need time to recover from psychological trauma."
As the darkness withdrew, another day of search and rescue was about to begin. Malaysian authorities said they would deploy more assets for the operations, which China's Consulate General in Kota Kinabalu said they would urge the Malaysian side to continue searching until all the missing are accounted for.