14 Feb 2011

Court told Tonga ferry operator advised Ashika unseaworthy before it was bought

4:23 pm on 14 February 2011

Tonga's biggest ever criminal trial has been told the Shipping Corporation of Polynesia was advised the Princess Ashika was unseaworthy before it was bought.

The vessel sank on its fifth voyage in August 2009, claiming the lives of 74 people.

Four men including the chief executive of the shipping company, New Zealander, John Jonesse, are facing manslaughter charges.

The company has also been charged.

The trial began this morning and as correspondent Katalina Tohi reports, the Crown's first witness was Captain Vaku'ata Pola Vi, who now runs Friendly Islands Shipping, which operates Tonga's new ferry.

"He was a former staffer of the Shipping Corporation of Polynesia, prior to the arrival of the Princess Ashika in Tonga. He told the court that one of the accused John Jonesse gave him pictures of the MV Princess Ashika and asked him for his advice. After inspecting the pictures, Vaka'uta Pola Vi told the court that he advised John Jonesse that the boat was not seaworthy particularly to sail in Tonga waters. He even made notes on the pictures identifying deficiencies and recommending refurbishment work to be done. According to Captain Vaku'ata Pola Vi the rusting boat was not appropriate for Tongan waters."