KOTA KINABALU: Pump boats filled to overflowing and zipping between the many islands in Semporna are a common sight – but things went horribly wrong when a boat with at least 21 people on board capsized while on its way from Kampung Bakung Bakung to Kampung Tandoan.

Five people – two women and three children – drowned while another two children are missing after the overloaded boat capsized in bad weather off Sabah’s east coast.

The six-metre long and one-metre wide boat was designed to carry no more than 15 people.

The bodies of the five victims – aged between one and 33 – were recovered by villagers shortly after the boat capsized off Pulau Timbun Mata, about 4km from Semporna’s mainland town, at about 8.30pm on Thursday.

The dead were sent to the Semporna district hospital for post-mortem.

Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) patrol boats, firemen, Sabah parks rangers and villagers are continuing to search for the missing children – a 14-year-old girl identified as Naranis and six-year-old boy identified as Aiman.

Semporna district police chief Supt Mohd Farhan Lee said the 64-year-old skipper of the boat was arrested at 12.50pm yesterday.

He said they would be applying for an order to remand the boatman to assist in investigations into causing the deaths due to negligence under Section 304a of the Penal Code.

Supt Mohd Farhan said police received a distress call from a former village head of Kampung Tandoan that the boat had capsized.

He said villagers managed to rescue 14 of those on the boat, aged between one and 65.

He urged passenger boat operators to strictly observe the capacity allowed for their boats as well as to ensure all passengers wore life jackets while at sea.

It is believed that the overloaded boat was also hit by rough seas and bad weather before it capsized.

Supt Mohd Farhan urged the public with any information about the incident to call investigating officer Insp Khadijah at 019-871 8002 or any police station.

The victims are all believed to be locals.