1 Apr 2011

Four men convicted over Tonga ferry disaster in custody, sentenced Monday

1:14 pm on 1 April 2011

The four men charged in relation to the sinking of the Tonga inter-island ferry have been remanded in custody after being found guilty on all charges in relation to the disaster.

The four are John Jonesse, the New Zealander who'd been chief executive of the Shipping Corporation of Polynesia, the Ashika's captain Maka Tuputupu, his first mate Semisi Pomale and a former director of the ministry of transport, Viliami Tu'ipulotu.

The corporation was also convicted.

The men had sought bail but this has been denied.

They've been convicted on 30 counts, including one each of manslaughter by negligence in relation to the death of Vaefetu'u Mahe, whose body was one of just two recovered after the sinking.

The seven week long trial concluded this morning when the seven person panel of assessors announced their verdicts after just over a day of deliberations.

The Solicitor General and Crown Prosecutor Aminiasi Kefu says the four men could face jail terms of up to ten years for the manslaughter charge, while the shipping company is likely to be fined.

Mr Kefu says he's not surprised by the verdict and he believes they had a strong case against the accused.

"I'm just pleased that the whole process has gone through without a hitch and the jury have managed to make a decision. I was starting to get worried that it was taking more than a day and a half."

Aminiasi Kefu says the accused could still appeal the verdict.


Within minutes of this morning's verdict our correspondent, Mateni Tapueluelu, reports members of the public complaining that these four are minnows, and more senior people in the government and the administration should be charged.

Various reasons that I am given. These people took orders from on high. They followed directions, that's their impression and they are being found guilty while their top decision makers are not sued or charged at all.

Mateni Tapueluelu says there are also concerns about the impact of the government compensation paid to the families of the 74 victims.

Each family received about 43 thousand US dollars.


Tonga's Police Commissioner says there is not sufficient evidence to lay charges against anyone else in relation to the Ashika disaster at the moment.

Chris Kelley says Crown Law does not believe there is enough evidence to prosecute anyone else.

Of course the culpability of others was considered in respect of the prima facie evidence available. In some cases we clearly looked at the negligence factors but of course it's the opinion of Crown Law, it's required to be of the standard of gross negligence, so those persons charged showed enough negligent behaviour to amount to gross negligence.


The lawyer for the Ashika's skipper, Maka Tuputupu, says his client doesn't accept the verdict but his family is still considering whether to appeal.

Sifa Tuutafaiva says Mr Tuputupu and the rest of the crew didn't believe the Ashika would sink.

He says the skipper had relied on the surveyors' reports but he did have concerns which he reported to the supervisor of the shipping company's workshop, which was the proper line of command.

The welders from the workshop did their best in welding the motor vessel. At the same time there was no decision by the acting director of marine, or the surveyors or the minister of transport to stop the vessel from sailing.