It’s been announced that a British man Daniel Macmillan, age 47, was one of the people to have died when the Tongan Ferry Princess Ashika sank overnight, Mr Macmillan was said to have been carrying a NZ driving licence.
33 people, mostly women and children are also thought to have lost their lives in the tragedy. More here: Tonga Ferry capsizes
The Tongan minister of transport, Paul Karalus, resigned a week after the disaster. His ministry is now under investigation by the Royal Commission. He said that his resignation was not an admission of guilt and that the Princess Ashika was seaworthy but this contradicts statements made by shipping owner and MP ‘Uliti Uata who said that the ferry was leaking:
“Princess Ashika was leaking hours before it capsized, with crew using buckets to bail out water because pumps failed to work, it is claimed.
MP and ship owner ‘Uliti Uata said the inter-island ferry had begun leaking on its cargo deck soon after it left Nuku’alofa last Wednesday and should have returned to port.
Mr Uata, whose company runs rival ferry MV Pulupaki, said he had inspected Princess Ashika while it was drydocked in Suva, Fiji, just before it went to Tonga.
He said the hull was holed and welds over thin steel plates were not holding. Workers had filled the holes with cement, he said.
He also believes the ship was not suited to sea journeys. “It is a very awful ship, it is designed to operate on smooth water,” Mr Uata said. “I believed they had pumps but the pumps did not work properly. The water started to fill up the cargo deck … They used buckets to try and get the water out …
“They [the crew] should have come back immediately as soon as they found there was a leak, or go to the nearest port. To me as a ship owner, this was not an accident.”
Pulupaki left Nuku’alofa an hour before Princess Ashika on the night it sank. When a distress call was made Pulupaki turned around and plucked most of the surviving passengers from the sea. Mr Uata said sea conditions were normal……”
The ship’s captain also had his concerns about the condition of the vessel:
“The allegations follow claims by the skipper of the Princess Ashika, who said the ferry was unseaworthy and the Tongan government knew there were problems with it.
But the claims of captain Maka Tuputupu and others about the ferry’s seaworthiness have been denied by Tonga’s Transport Minister Paul Karalus.
Mr Tuputupu said the waves were less than one metre high when the ship sank.
He was on the bridge making mayday calls and was the last person off the ship. “Water was up around my head. It rolled over when I was still on the bridge.”
He managed to find a hatch and swam several metres to the surface.
He said he was under pressure to sail even though he feared for the ship’s seaworthiness.
The Tongan government should take responsibility for the disaster as it knew there were problems with the ship, he said. The Princess Ashika was bought by the government-owned Shipping Corporation of Polynesia, from Fiji just two months earlier.
The MV Pulupaki was the first ship to arrive at the scene of the sinking and pulled survivors from the water. Its owner, Tu’i Uata, said the Princess Ashika “was in bad shape”, Radio New Zealand reported.
Workers trying to take rust out of it when it first arrived in Tonga were able to punch their hammers through the hull of the lower deck, he said.
Many community leaders have also claimed the ferry had a poor reputation in Fiji and was to be sold for scrap metal……” full report here
Prime minister of NZ, John Key, has offered help to Tonga with finding a new ferry.
“Mohenoa said that after watching a video he went outside at about 11pm (2000 AEST) and saw crewmen bailing water from a lower deck where the ship’s engine was housed and the cargo stored.
The buckets were small and crew could not keep up with the incoming water, he said.
“Then suddenly a wave one metre high came and hauled all the cargo, vehicles and forklifts to one side, causing the ferry to overturn and sink instantly,” Mohenoa said.
“Me and my co-worker Pau Tupou were very lucky because we were out on the open deck and were able to jump.
“The ferry sunk so quickly that no one was able to do anything.
“And I think the passengers inside just couldn’t make it out in time because the ferry just overturned and sank so quickly, in a minute.”
By the time he had reached the nearest life raft and turned around to look, the Princess Ashika was gone.
“No one was able to make it out apart from us men. No woman or child made it. It was an unbelievable experience because we just never expected that the ferry would sink.”