17 Feb 2011

Tonga witness feared dismissal over Ashika concerns

2:36 pm on 17 February 2011

A marine engineer, who conducted a survey of the Tonga inter island ferry, the Princess Ashika, feared losing his job if he raised concerns he had about the vessel with the Transport Minister.

74 people drowned when the Ashika sank in 2009.

Four men - John Jonesse, who was CEO of the Shipping Corporation of Polynesia, the Ashika's captain Maka Tuputupu, his first mate Semisi Pomale and a former ministry of transport director Viliami Tu'ipulotu, have been charged over the disaster.

The trial is now into its fourth day with senior marine engineer, Onesi Tuifua, who surveyed the vessel soon after it arrived in Tonga, continuing to give evidence.

Our reporter in Tonga is Falemaka Fihaki.

"Onesi Tuifua was upset when he found that while there were discussions on the deficiencies on the vessel, word came that the Ashika had departed. He says he took leave at that point but didn't think the vessel had been registered or that the necessary paperwork had been completed. Onesi said it angered him that the vessel left while there was work to be done to fix it and he voiced concern and disappointment to his senior officer, Viliami Tuipulotu, as well as fellow surveyors. Counsel for the ship's captain, Siosifa Tu'utafaiva, asked Onesi why he hadn't told the then Minister of Transport, Paul Karalus, who was on the ship on day one of the suvey , of the ships problems, he said he was afraid of losing his job if his comments upset Mr Karalus."