Tongan Ferry Inquiry Underway: "Doomed Ferry ‘Safe’ Says NZ Buyer"

In August we wrote about the tragedy that occured when the Ferry, Princess Ashika, sank in Tonga and of how Daniel Macmillan, originally from Islay in Scotland and a permanent resident of New Zealand, was amongst the many souls who were sadly lost that day.

The Royal Commission has now commenced its inquiry and it has emerged that a New Zealander involved with the purchase of the vessel had’ no experience of shipping’ before he joined the Shipping Corporation. This is by Micheal Field

“A New Zealander who made the decision for the Tongan government to buy the doomed ferry Princess Ashika claims he honestly believed the ship was in good condition. The ferry sank earlier this year with the loss of 74 people.


A royal commission of inquiry is underway into the sinking and in its opening days heard evidence from experts Mosese Fakatou, Manase Katoa and Sateki Tupou, who showed evidence of extensive rusting with more than 80 photos of the disrepair.

Napier-born former Christchurch businessman John Jonesse, now manager of the government-owned Shipping Corporation [of Polynesia (SCP) Ltd] bought the 37-year-old ferry in Fiji.

Counsel assisting the commission, Manuel Varitimos, asked Jonesse if he “honestly believe that MV Princess Ashika was in good condition?” “Yes sir,” Jonesse replied.

He said he was pivotal in contributing information for the purchase. He said he had told the board that the ship was well maintained in Fiji.

Varitimos put it to Jonesse that the 80 photos and evidence was “quite damning” on the condition of the ship. “Some of the evidence given could be interpreted that way, yes, sir, but I also would be reliant on the information provided by surveyors,” Jonesse said.

He agreed that before joining the Shipping Corporation he had no shipping experience. Jonesse said Princess Ashika was in a “good mechanical condition“. He said he relied on experts on the status of the rest of the ship.

Varitimos pressured him on whether the ship was in a good condition. “In the light of the disaster that occurred, that we can’t underrate, sir, and the tragedy as a result, you’d have to concede that, sir,” Jonesse replied.

Counsel said it would be “patently false and misleading” to suggest the ship was in good condition, but Jonesse continued to claim it was in a good mechanical condition. He said it was seaworthy when it left port.

It was put to him that the sides and hull of the ship were heavily corroded. “The sides, yes, sir. That doesn’t necessarily cover the whole hull.” Jonesse said he became aware that Princess Ashika was built for use on the Inland Sea in Japan. He did not agree it was built for smooth water.

“Well, I’ve been on the Inland Sea and seen substantial waves, sir, in that area.”
The ship when in Fiji operation had been authorised to carry 160 passengers and crew, but Jonesse agreed that on the fatal night it had about 180 aboard.

Varitimos submitted that in Fiji the ship had been taken out of service because it was in a poor state. Jonesse did not agree.

Asked if he saw it in Fiji and that it was “littered with rust and corrosion” Jonesse said “there was some rust, yes, sir, and there was corrosion.…”
The commission continues its deliberations.”

Mr Jonesse is the Chief Executive and Managing Director of the Polynesian Shipping Corporation. According to 3 News “he was the only individual who looked at the vessel before it was purchased from the Patterson Brothers in Fiji. It has now been revealed that no marine survey was carried out and no one from the transport department inspected the vessel either”

In August Stuff also reported:

“John Jonesse has been accused of ignoring crucial defects in the ship found by both the ship’s master and Tongan Maritime School lecturer Willie Vi.
Vi told 3 News last night that he had prepared a draft report for Jonesse saying the vessel was unsuitable for Tongan waters and highlighting problems such as no lashings in the cargo area of the ferry, no seals over the loading ramps, rusted platforms and holes.
Jonesse said he fixed lashings to the vessel and dismissed Vi’s report as just a draft.
Jonesse told The Press last night that he was “under the hammer” from the New Zealand media, but the Tongan press was supportive.”


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