Malaysian authorities are searching for at least 32 Indonesian workers whose boat sank amid high waves while bringing them home for the end of the Muslim fasting month.

The coast guard, police and fishermen rescued eight survivors since the boat capsized in rough waves off Malaysia's southern Johor state around midnight on Friday, a Johor district police official told Reuters news agency.

It is thought the Indonesians chose to travel on the boat because they were working illegally in Malaysia and wished to bypass border controls on their trip home.

The suspected undocumented workers were on an hours-long journey to Indonesia's Batam island before celebrations next week marking the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

"The condition of the boat was believed to be questionable," Amran Daud, an official with the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency told AFP news agency on Saturday.

Another maritime official, Hairi Nizam, said those rescued were found clinging on to plastic drums in the water.

None of them were wearing life jackets.

Many Indonesians working illegally in Malaysia travel on boats believed to be old and unsafe to return to their hometowns. Staying in Malaysia illegally is punishable by jail and caning for men.

It was the second recent maritime accident involving Indonesians in Johor state's waters.

At least one woman drowned and seven people went missing after their wooden boat overturned on July 18.

Twenty-seven people were rescued.

Source: Agencies