20 Nov 2009

Captain of Tonga's Ashika testifies at inquiry into sinking

2:58 pm on 20 November 2009

The captain of Tonga's Princess Ashika says he sailed the ship on the night it sank, despite believing it was unseaworthy, because no one had instructed him not to.

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

Megan Whelan has more.

"Mr Tuputupu told the Royal Commission that even when he saw photos of the Ashika, well before it arrived in Tonga, he could tell it was very old and rusty, making him believe it was unfit for Tongan waters. However when he raised his concerns with the then Managing Director of the Shipping Corporation, John Jonesse, he was told it would be fixed. Mr Tuputupu told the commission that on the first four voyages, holes were being punched into the side of the vessel by the waves. He told the Commission that even though the Ashika was unseaworthy, and that as captain, his responsibility was the safety of his passengers, he did not feel he could stop the vessel from sailing. The captain said the marine department had not given him notice to stop sailing and he relied on its judgement. The Royal Commission has now adjourned until the 7th of December, but an interim report is due on the 30th of November."