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Karyang incident in Mersing: "Member suggested police call, but situation was reported under control"

Vanessa Liu, Cheryl Tech
Pages Times
August 18, 2019

It was supposed to be a routine expedition outside of Mersing, the part of the kayak members previously.

But what a group of 15 paddlers and a diver didn't expect when they set out on their kayaks on August 8 was to run in unusually strong winds and unusual seas.

It was so bad that the guide of the kayak group ended up on an island different from the rest of the group.

Worse, the two members of the group, Miss Puah Geok Tin, 57, and Mr Tan Eng Chow, 62, were not where their light green kayak was found on 13 August.

Madame Pua's body was also discovered a day later by a fisherman. Mr Tan is still missing.

Last night, in the wake of Madame Pua, the kayak that accompanied her on the expedition gave the Sunday Times an account of what had happened while they were at sea. Several apparently showed up on Friday to pay their respects.

The kayaker, who only wanted to be known as Mr Goh, said that before leaving Mersing that morning, their leader and team leader gave a briefing in which he told everyone to "try to stay together" during expedition. The group consisted of eight kayaks, including a single seat and motorized safety boat.

Mr Goh, who held a standing front yesterday, told ST that members of the group – mostly in their 40s and 50s – had different abilities and kayaking experience, and thus moved at different speeds during the journey .

"Before we started, (the team leader) asked us to stay together. But some of them are very strong, so we tend to move very fast. "

The gap between the kayaks grew as the journey continued. Then the sea conditions turned worse, and they ended up in two groups – one with three kayaks and the other with five. Soon, they could barely see each other.

"The wind and electricity were very strong," he said.

"The conditions were so bad, you couldn't afford to stop. If you stop, you will move away.

“We kept throwing left and right; it was terrible. The only way to maintain stability was to keep the paddle. "

ST understands the group headed for Pulau Mertang Timur, a small island about 24km northwest of Mersing, where they planned to rest for the night.

Mr Goh and his wife were the first kayaks to reach the island. The security boat, which guarded the group's tents and other supplies, was already docked off the island when they arrived.

"The next kayak came about 15 minutes later," Goh said.

Mr Goh added that he had seen their guide somehow end up on another island nearby.

The team realized something was wrong only when they finally managed to regroup on the island and, at 5:30 pm, realized that Mr Tan and Madame Pua were nowhere to be seen. That was when two members of the group went out on a security boat to gather their guide and his kayak partner, four of them combing the waters in search of Madame Pua and Tan.

The security boat left the search at about 8am, about two hours after it began to darken.

Mr Goh said they were unable to call for help because their cell phones did not have a network signal on the island.

He added that a member of the group had proposed to call police, but was told that the situation was "under control". He declined to say who described the situation as under control.

The group then spent the night on the island and, the next morning, the team leader – Mr Goh Kei Wei – went out to the mainland on a security boat to seek help.

A police report was made at 10.30am and a search and rescue team was dispatched to search for the missing at 3.30am. This meant that it was about 22 hours after the first duo were noticed missing.

Just four days later, the bright green kayak of the missing duo was found by a fisherman in the Kuwaiti waters, with all of their packed things still intact.

Meanwhile, Malaysian authorities continue their search and rescue efforts on Mr Tan.

Mr Vincent Wong, vice president of the Kayaya Federation in Singapore, said that planning kayaking expeditions in open water is crucial. "Many sellers in Singapore can arrange kayak trips, but it is important to have risk assessment procedures and backup safety plans. Sellers also need to be sure that, for long sea voyages, all members must have adequate competence. before they go, "he added.

Mr Wong also told the ST that the trips he had organized included part of the area before the trip and that permits would be issued to inform the Coast Guard and relevant authorities that they would be moving in their waters. There will also be a safety boat that sailed with the group in case of emergency.

"The safety boats are intended to support the paddles during the expedition. In case of emergency, the safety boats can come to pick up the paddles in distress and bring them back to shore, "he said.

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