KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia on Monday (Jun 8) detained 269 Rohingya migrants when they tried to enter the country on a damaged boat off the holiday island of Langkawi, authorities said.
The Southeast Asian country, which does not recognise refugee status, has been a favoured destination for ethnic Rohingya who fled a 2017 military-led crackdown in Myanmar and more recently squalid conditions in refugee camps in Bangladesh.
Acting on a tip-off received a day earlier, Malaysian authorities intercepted a boat ferrying the Rohingya in the pre-dawn hours of Monday off Langkawi off the northwestern corner of the Malaysian peninsula.
A coastguard vessel spotted the suspected migrant boat off the island, and was set to push it out to international waters, authorities said.
But as the coastguards approached, 53 Rohingya jumped into the sea and were detained.
"An inspection of their boat found 216 Rohingya migrants and the body of one female illegal immigrant. Further inspections found that the boat was deliberately damaged ... making it unfit to be turned back," Malaysia's National Task Force (NTF) on border patrol said in a statement.
According to the statement, a Marine Police Team boat and the KM Kimanis from the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) were sent to the scene to carry out surveillance and deportation operations.
"When the KM Kimanis approached the boat, 53 of the Rohingya jumped off the boat and swam ashore, but they were all arrested by MMEA personnel who were standing by on land," said the statement.
The KM Kimanis also provided food and fresh water to them. The National Security Council allowed the boat to be towed to the Teluk Ewa Jetty in Langkawi.
“All 269 illegal immigrants have been detained and have been temporarily placed at Kem Bina Negara Wawasan Langkawi, while the body has been handed over to the police for further action,” said the NTF.
Authorities did not say where the vessel started its journey, or how long it had been at sea.
Senior Minister (Security Cluster) Ismail Sabri Yaakob said that a total of 396 "illegal immigrants" and 108 boat skippers had been detained from May 1 to Jun 8 for attempting to enter the country illegally.
The authorities had also detained a further 11 suspected smugglers and seized 12 ships, in addition to deporting 140 illegal immigrants, six skippers and 22 vessels.
In April, Malaysian authorities detained 202 people believed to be ethnic Rohingya after the boat they were on was found adrift off Langkawi.
The Southeast Asian nation has long been a favourite destination for Rohingya as it is Muslim-majority and already home to a large number of them.
In recent months, hundreds of Rohingya have been rescued off Bangladesh after being stranded for long periods on boats.
In April, two survivors told AFP that 60 Rohingya died on a boat crammed with hundreds of people stranded in the Bay of Bengal, after Malaysia and Thailand both denied it entry.