September 7, 2015 / 5:43 AM / 2 years ago

Indonesia migrant boat death toll rises to 61

Rescuers carry a body recovered from a capsized boat believed to be carrying illegal migrants, at a jetty in Hutan Melintang, near Teluk Intan, Malaysia September 3, 2015.The New Straits Times Press/S. Ravale

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Sixty-one bodies have been recovered from an overloaded wooden boat which sank off Malaysia carrying dozens of Indonesian illegal immigrants, maritime officials said on Monday.

The dead were mostly men, with one toddler on board, the maritime agency's search and rescue director, Robert Teh, told Reuters. Only 20 people are believed to have survived Thursday's disaster.

"If no more bodies are found today, we may call off the search and rescue operations tomorrow," Teh said.

The boat is believed to have overturned due to overloading and bad weather as immigrants were making the journey home for the Eid al-Adha holiday, officials told reporters on Thursday.

One of the victims, Asminah, was making her first trip home in three years. Her eldest son, Yan Iqbar, told Reuters that only he had been told of her visit.

"She wanted to give the family a surprise," he said.

Most of Malaysia's estimated six million legal and illegal migrant workers are from Indonesia, working on construction sites, plantations, in factories and in domestic service.

Southeast Asia had a huge migrant crisis in May after boats carrying thousands of people from Myanmar and Bangladesh were left at sea following a Thai crackdown on people-smuggling gangs.

Last week's tragedy occurred at a time when Europe is facing its biggest refugee crisis with thousands of Middle Eastern refugees making their way by boat across the Mediterranean. Hundreds have died.

Reporting by Trinna Leong; Additional reporting by correspondent in Binjai, Sumatra; Editing by Nick Macfie

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