KOTA KINABALU, Malaysia, Feb. 1 (Xinhua) -- Malaysia officials said on Wednesday that the search area was further expanded for the missing people in a boat accident off its Sabah state on North Borneo.

The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) said search area would expand to 3,900 square nautical miles to cover waters off Sabah, neighboring Brunei, and for the first time near the Malaysian state of Sarawak.

Some 20 aircraft and ships would join the search.

MMEA District Deputy Operation Officer Aidil Adzhar bin Saleh said the search efforts were strengthened despite more than 72 hours had passed. "We hope they are still alive," he said.

Malaysian police said on Tuesday that six remained missing, including five Chinese tourists and one crew member. 20 Chinese tourists had been rescued as well as two crewmen. Three Chinese tourists were dead.

Their boat went missing on Saturday off Sabah on the way from the state capital Kota Kinabalu to an island some 60 km to the west.