7 Feb 2011

Technical charges dropped at Tonga ferry trial

8:33 pm on 7 February 2011

A number of technical charges have been dropped on the first day of a trial against those charged after the sinking of a ferry in Tonga.

The Supreme Court trial began on Monday. The proceedings are being held at the Tongan parliament because of the huge interest expected to be shown by family members and the general public.

Four men are facing charges of manslaughter after the deaths of 74 people on the Princess Ashika in August 2009.

The accused, including New Zealander John Jonesse, could be jailed for up to 25 years if convicted.

The accused men and the Shipping Corporation of Polynesia, which operated the ferry, each face a charge of manslaughter by negligence.

However, the Crown has dropped 10 charges against ferry captain Makahokovalu Tuputupu and the Shipping Corporation. They had faced 16 charges each, and now face six charges each.

The technical charges dropped accused the captain and the corporation of taking the ferry to sea without proper certification.

The Crown will open its case on Tuesday morning before a jury of four men and three women.

Tonga's Solicitor-General is leading the case, which is expected to last at least a month. The Crown will call at least 30 witnesses.