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Ships collide in thick Malaysia haze; 29 missing

Map of Malaysia September 27, 1997
Web posted at: 11:14 a.m. EST (1614 GMT)

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (CNN) -- Rescue crews combed murky waters for survivors off the west coast of Malaysia Saturday, after a supertanker rammed a cargo ship in thick haze from forest fires across Southeast Asia.

Twenty-nine crewmen were missing, some of them believed trapped in the Indian-registered cargo ship, which was hit while the crew slept late Friday and quickly sank, officials said.

The collision occurred hours after an Indonesian jetliner crashed 255 miles away while descending through the thick haze that has choked much of Southeast Asia. All 234 aboard were killed.

A L S O :

Crash investigators in Indonesia search for 'black boxes'

The Vikraman cargo ship and the Mount 1 supertanker, which was registered in St. Vincent in the Caribbean, collided in the Strait of Malacca about 11 p.m. Friday (1500 GMT/11 a.m. EDT) near the central Malaysian town of Port Dickson, about 50 miles south of Kuala Lumpur.

Capt. Cartik Venghatraman of the Vikraman and four other people were rescued. Authorities said the Mount 1 was slightly damaged and none of its crew was injured.


It was not immediately known what caused the accident, but the smog was believed to have been a factor.

"It's because of the haze," one official said.

Another official, however, disputed that finding, saying it was too early to define the cause.

Roslee Mat Yusof, an officer at the Maritime Rescue Coordinating Center in Port Klang, said dozens of rescue ships were sent to the scene.

Investigators also were trying to interview the five survivors of the Vikraman to determine what happened just before the ships slammed into each other. The five were rescued by a Thai merchant vessel and the Royal Malaysian Navy's K.D. Lekir, which picked up the distress call.

Malaysian meteorologists had warned all ships traveling in and near the Strait of Malacca two weeks ago to be extra cautious due to the smog.

Visibility in the area was about one mile at the time of Friday's collision. Last week, two cargo vessels collided in the strait, but no one was killed.

The haze, from hundreds of smoldering forest fires in Indonesia, is also suspected of playing a part in the plane crash on the Indonesian island of Sumatra.


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