18 Nov 2009

Tonga ferry probe hears water in vessel a recurring problem

5:19 pm on 18 November 2009

A crew member on the Princess Ashika says water had entered the ferry on its previous voyages in Tonga.

Uasike Tupou was appearing before the Royal Commission investigating the sinking of the vessel in August, in which more than 70 people died.

Jo O'Brien reports

"Mr Tupou told the inquiry a couple of inches of water entered the vessel's cargo hold during its first and third voyages in Tonga following its arrival from Fiji in July. He says after the vessel's second voyage he saw a hole more than one and a half metres wide on the port side, and that sheet metal was welded to the area to cover it. Mr Tupou says on the fourth voyage water was about a metre deep in the cargo hold, light cargo began to float, and the ferry tilted heavily. He says they punched holes in the side of the ferry to help water to flow out. He says on the fifth voyage he was awoken seven minutes before the ferry sank, and only heard a warning over the loud speaker to be prepared about a minute before the sinking."