4 Mar 2011

Tonga trial hears of little warning or information for Ashika passengers

8:54 am on 4 March 2011

The second mate of the Princess Ashika has been giving evidence on the 14th day of the trial of four men charged with manslaughter over the sinking of the Tongan inter-island ferry.

As our correspondent, Falemaka Fihaki, reports, Filipe Tau'ataina had been in command of the ship until just prior to its sinking.

"Mr Tau'ataina had earlier told the court that he hadn't seen a ship with so much rust and corrosion. He says he'd been instructed by the 1st mate to sail towards the waves shortly before the captain stepped in and changed course and had the vessel sail away from them. Mr Tau'ataina says the captain ordered him to alert crew and passengers to gather at the muster station just minutes before the Ashika sank. He says he called to them from the bridge. When the vessel sank he surfaced beside a life raft. Mr Tau'ataina said he could see the Ashika's keel and after five minutes of trying to pull survivors on board the raft the vessel had completely disappeared. Asked by the acting director of marine's lawyer, Peau Pifeleti, whether, from the raft, he could see any other survivors, Mr Tau'ataina said the waves were too high but he noticed debris floating around. He told the court that on the Ashika and other vessels he'd sailed on passengers hadn't been told what to do in an emergency or how to locate life jackets and emergency equipment."