Muslim-majority Malaysia has long been a favoured destination for Rohingya Muslims seeking a better life after escaping a 2017 military crackdown in Myanmar and, more recently, refugee camps in Bangladesh.
A Rohingya migrant is feared to be the only survivor from a boat carrying at least two dozen asylum seekers that is believed to have run into difficulty off the Malaysian coast near Thailand, a coastguard official said on Sunday.
Mohamad Zawawi Abdullah, coastguard chief for the northern states of Kedah and Perlis, said the 27-year-old named Nor Hossain was detained by police after he swam to shore on the resort island of Langkawi.
"Based on the information from the police, the illegal Rohingya migrant had jumped off the boat that had 24 other people and that he was the only one who managed to swim to the shore safely," Zawawi said.
A search and rescue operation had been launched, but another official told AFP that no bodies or survivors have been found.
It is not clear what happened to the boat.
Muslim-majority Malaysia is a favoured destination for Rohingya, who face persecution in their mostly Buddhist homeland of Myanmar, but authorities have in recent months been trying to stop them entering over coronavirus fears.
Many of the 700,000-plus Rohingya Muslims who fled a military crackdown in Myanmar three years ago have attempted to leave overcrowded refugee camps in Bangladesh's Cox's Bazar district on boats headed for Malaysia and neighbouring Indonesia.
Zawawi said two coastguard aircraft and two boats have been deployed to search the suspected area.
Refusal to take in refugees
Malaysia has stepped up maritime patrols since the outbreak of the coronavirus epidemic in a bid to stop Rohingya boats from landing.
Although some have made it ashore many boats have been turned back, sparking anger from rights groups.
Last month, 269 Rohingya were detained on arrival in Langkawi.
At the time, the head of the MMEA said the 269 were transferred from a larger "motherboat" on which dozens of people were believed to have died and were thrown into the sea over a four-month voyage.
Malaysia does not recognise refugee status. Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said last month the country could not take in any more Rohingya, citing a struggling economy battered by the coronavirus pandemic.