7 Feb 2011

Manslaughter trial of Princess Ashika accused begins in Tonga

7:09 am on 7 February 2011

The manslaughter trial of four men charged over the sinking of the Princess Ashika in Tonga begins today.

Seventy four people died when the overcrowded ferry capsized, but only two bodies were recovered.

The four -- the Shipping Corporation of Polynesia's managing director John Jonesse as well as the ferry captain, first mate and a senior public servant -- face up to 25 years in jail if convicted.

At a preliminary hearing they pleaded not guilty to manslaughter and additional charges including sending and taking an unseaworthy ship to sea, having no valid safety certificate and having no loadline certificate.

The Nuku'alofa Supreme Court chief registrar, Manako Vi, says the month-long trial will be held at parliament because the normal court is too small to accommodate the eight counsel, court officials, media and more than 100 people called for jury selection.