16 Mar 2011

Last crown witness heard in Tonga's Ashika trial

4:02 pm on 16 March 2011

The last crown witness has taken the stand in the trial of four men charged over the sinking of the Tongan inter island ferry, the Princess Ashika.

The four, charged with manslaughter by negligence, are 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 has been following the trial.

"Lisiate Vuni Latu was one of the three surveyors of the Ashika after it arrived in Tonga in early July 2009. When cross examined by Mr Jonesse's lawyer, Laki Niu, Mr Latu told the court he recalled having spoken directly to the minister of transport at the time, Paul Karalus, about the condition of the ship. In a meeting between himself, the acting marine director, Viliami Tuipulotu and Mr Karalus at the minister's office, Mr Latu recalled the minister asking the acting director what he thought of the Ashika. According to Mr Latu, the acting director didn't answer and so the minister asked him. He told Mr Karalus that the Ashika wasn't seaworthy, but the minister's reply was the vessel belongs to the ministry and would be used to transport building materials to the outer islands once the new vessel, the 'Otuanga'ofa, arrived from Japan. Mr Latu was the 31st and last crown witness to be called."