One crew member was found dead and 14 others, most of them Chinese, were missing Wednesday after a sand-dredging vessel capsized off Malaysia, with some believed trapped alive inside the sunken hull.

One crewmember died, 14 missing in Malaysia sand dredger capsize
Images from the accident site - Photo courtesy of MMEA

The Coast Guard said authorities in the southern state of Johor were alerted at 8.50am that the vessel, the JBB Rong Chang 8, had sunk.

Two boats were sent to the scene and found one Chinese national dead and three others alive, the Coast Guard said.

A search is continuing for the 14 sailors -12 Chinese, one Indonesian and one Malaysian - still missing, said a Coast Guard statement.

Sanifah Yusof, a senior Coast Guard official, told AFP that divers searching for the missing crew believed some could still be alive inside the overturned boat.

"We believe there are some crew trapped in the ship. The divers knocked on the body of the ship and got a response," he told AFP.

It was not clear what caused the accident in Muar district. The weather in the area was fine.

Dredging sand from coastal areas is a booming and lucrative business. The sand is shipped to wealthy land-scarce areas such as Singapore for reclamation and construction work.

But environmentalists have long argued that the practice damages local communities and ecosystems.

Last year two foreign vessels manned by Chinese crew were seized off Malaysia's west coast for allegedly conducting illegal sand-dredging.

Source: AFP