25 Feb 2011

Former Tonga transport minister appears at Ashika trial

11:04 am on 25 February 2011

The former transport minister in Tonga, Paul Karalus has taken the witness stand in the Princess Ashika trial.

Seventy-four people drowned when the vessel sank in 2009.

Our reporter in Tonga Falemaka Fihaki has more.

"Witness number seven for the crown, former minister of transport Paul Karalus was on the witness stand yesterday afternoon on week two of the Ashika trial. Mr Karalus told the court that he was never aware of the Ashika's deficiencies as he was never informed by the surveyors of the Ashika or the Director of Marine, Viliami Tuipulotu, of the vessel's deficiencies. According to the former minister, he was not aware that the Ashika was old when he boarded it on the day it arrived, but was mainly concerned with the condition of the passenger area. He claims that he spoke to Vuni Latu and other marine officers on the third of July when the vessel failed. They only mentioned that the Ashika's paperwork was not complete during a casual conversation. And no-one mentioned anything about the vessel being un-sea-worthy, even after it began sailing. When cross-examined by Laki Niu, who is the counsel for the former SCP manager John Jonesse, Mr Karalus told the court he had to trust the surveyors and did not wish to upset them by interfering with their work. Regarding the agreements that gave the SCP the right to operate the Ashika, Mr Karalus said that it was done verbally and from emails but there was never a signed agreement."

Falemaka Fihaki says Paul Karalus will continue to give evidence today.