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A tourist boat carrying 31 people has gone missing off the Malaysian coast in stormy conditions, authorities said.

The Malaysian skipper, rescued along with a crew member at around 2 p.m. (0600 GMT) on Sunday, told the authorities the boat sank after being damaged in turbulent waters.

According to the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency, the boat had left Kota Kinabalu, the capital of the eastern state of Sabah, on Saturday morning for the popular tourist island of Pulau Mengalum, located 60 kilometers west of the city. "We are looking at strong winds and choppy waters, and have requested assistance from the air force to conduct an aerial search", he said.

Royal Malaysia Navy (RMN) chief Laksamana Tan Sri Ahmad Kamarulzaman Ahmad Badaruddin tweeted that his personnel have joined the operation.

The vessel had been carrying as many as 28 Chinese tourists, believed to be on their regular Lunar New Year vacation.

Prime Minister Najib Razak said he was closely monitoring developments.

An earlier disaster involving Chinese visitors to Malaysia - the unexplained disappearance of a Malaysia Airlines plane in March 2014 while en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing - soured relations between the two nations for a time. "Way to go, Malaysia", wrote one microblog Weibo user, one of many social media users to jump at the chance to draw comparisons between the two incidents, despite the fact that the boat may still be found.