8 Mar 2011

Tonga trial hears of water in Ashika on disaster voyage

4:24 pm on 8 March 2011

A former crew member of the Tonga inter-island ferry, Princess Ashika, has told a manslaughter trial he could see water pouring into the vessel on the night it later sank, claiming 74 lives.

Penisimani Tupou has been giving evidence in the trial of the former managing director of the Shipping Corporation of Polynesia, John Jonesse, the Ashika's skipper, Maka Tuputupu, first mate Semisi Pomale, and the acting director of marine, Viliami Tu'ipulotu.

Falemaka Fihaki reports from Tonga.

"Mr Tupou told the court that he believes the water the Ashika had been taking in on the night of the sinking came from gaps in the bow ramp, which couldn't be fully closed. He said you could see water coming in through these openings from the bridge of the vessel. Mr Tupou says he reported to first mate Semisi Pomale, that water had flowed into the engine room and the crew cabin, but after inspecting this the first mate went back to sleep instead of reporting the matter to the captain. When asked by counsel for the Ashika's Captain, Sifa Tu'utafaiva, whether he'd thought of warning the passengers when the situation worsened, Mr Tupou says it never crossed his mind. Lawyer for Mr Pomale, 'Ofa Pouono, asked if he was concerned at the Ashika's condition when boarding it, and Mr Tupou said no because he needed the money and it didn't worry him that the vessel was old."