Overloaded express boat sinks near Belaga

SIBU, May 28 (Bernama) -- An express boat packed with passengers returning home for the Gawai Dayak Festival this weekend sank at the Jeram Tukok/Jeram Bungan area about 40-minute journey from here between 8.30am and 9am this morning.

According to Daniel Levoh, a councillor of the Kapit District Council, the express boat was believed to have carried more than 100 passengers although its official load capacity is for 67 seated passengers.

Contacted by Bernama, he said the "Bakun Mas Express Boat" passed by Belaga at 8am.

It had come from Bakun much earlier. Its passengers were timber camp and timber, and oil palm plantation workers in the area.

"The boat was supposed to have made the normal transit stop at Belaga but it did not do so as it was already packed.

"Many passengers were seen sitting on its roof which is not allowed. "There were more passengers waiting for it at the Belaga wharf so that was why it only stopped in mid-river to allow crew members to buy food for the journey to Kapit and Sibu," he said.

Daniel said he had received information that a pregnant woman was the only casualty in the incident but this had yet to be verified by the police who are still at the scene now.

He added when the boat crashed onto a rock in the area, the passengers were able to swim to the banks.

Meanwhile, Parti Rakyat Sarawak Information chief Dannny Bungan, who is from Sungai Asap, said the police and the Sarawak River Board personnel must be stationed in interior places like Bakun and Belaga to monitor the situation before any major festival.

"There are so many workers from Kapit and other areas working in the Bakun area. Come any long holidays there is a mad rush to get home by taking the express boat," he said.

He added if personnel from the two departments were around, they could monitor the situation well.

He also said all passengers must record their details in the passenger list as required by the Sarawak River Board and practised in all major towns in the state.