KOTA KINABALU, Malaysia, Feb. 3 (Xinhua) — An official in charge of tourism in the eastern Malaysian state of Sabah has vowed to take effective measures to ensure the safety of foreign tourists, as a massive search operation continues for the missing victims of a sunken tourist boat.
Pang Yuk Ming, assistant minister of tourism, culture and environment of Sabah, told Xinhua on Friday that a joint investigation committee, comprising of multiple departments, has been set up to thoroughly investigate the cause of the accident.
He said a preliminary investigation report will be released to the public next week.
A catamaran carrying over two dozen Chinese tourists and three crew went down in turbulent waters while heading for the popular island of Mengalum on Saturday.
Till now 22 people have been rescued, and three Chinese tourists have been confirmed dead. Another five Chinese tourists and a crew member are still missing.
The accident could possibly deal a heavy blow to the tourism industry of Sabah, as a large portion of inbound international tourists to Sabah are from China.
A preliminary report from Sabah tourism board registered more than 340,000 tourists from Chinese mainland during the period of Jan-Nov in 2016, the largest source of Sabah’s international tourists.
Pang said he has not yet considered the impact of the accident on tourists from China, but instead focused on investigation and problems that need to be rectified.
“We will strengthen our management of the industry, starting from Kota Kinabalu, and once we finalize the plan, we will apply it to the whole state,” said Pang, adding that it is not only a measure for the safety of foreign tourists, but also for the long-term benefits of the tourism industry in Sabah.
Pang said aside from revoking the licenses of the two tour operators and holding the owner of the tourist boat criminally responsible, the authorities will also suspend travel programs in Mengalum island and forbid all tourists boats from sailing to the island until the completion of the investigation.
According to Pang, they also plan to install electronic identification devices on all boats sailing from Sabah, so that maritime and port authorities can better manage boats plying through the waters.
Pang said his department, along with maritime, city hall and other agencies, will make sure such a tragedy will not happen again.