SCP Suspends John Jonesse, Legal Representation Withdrawn

It looks like John Jonesse has been hanged out to dry. The Royal Commission of inquiry hearing into the sinking of the Tongan ferry, Princess Ashika, was suspended on Friday when the board of the Shipping Corportation of Polynesia Ltd (SCP) suspended its Managing Director John Jonesse and cut off his access to a corporate legal defence. He has been given two weeks to find a lawyer to defend him for the rest of his testimony. (For previous posts on this topic see Princess Ashika tags)

According to a report in Matangi Tonga On Line on Friday:
Repairs not completed
“Before the hearing broke for lunch today, John told the Commission that required repair works on the Ashika were not completed when it left Nuku’alofa on 5 August on its final voyage.

A defect list issued by the Tonga Marine and Ports surveyors instructed the need for repairs of over 40 faults, including holes, broken scuppers and others identified by the surveyors, were not completely repaired when it sailed on its final voyage.

John said there was no time frame given for when the repairs were to be completed but priority work was conducted on the vessel and it was an ongoing working in progress.

SCP Board
The SCP, owned by the government of Tonga is the managing agent for the Tonga government’s shipping vessels.

The SCP Board includes chair ‘Alisi Taumoepeau; secretary Lord Dalgety, and member Tevita Haukinima.

John Jonesse has stated to the inquiry that a Cabinet Committee comprising the then Minister of Transport, the Minister of Finance and the former Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, and himself, met following discussions and agreed that the Agreement to Purchase the vessel should proceed following the recommendations from MoT and normal procurement guidelines.

Previously on 5 November:
“FIJI MARINE Survey Certificates issued on the MV Princess Ashika in 2009 confirmed there were increasing safety concerns from the Fiji Marine Board and Fiji International Safety Administration on the deteriorating condition of the vessel.

The inquiry into the sinking of the ferry heard that the certificates were issued earlier this year, some time before the vessel was purchased by the Tongan Government.

This morning, October 5, the inquiry was presented with a series of Fiji Marine Survey Certificates issued for the vessel earlier this year which notated in the endorsements printed on the document the conditions for the Ashika to sail, which were for no longer than an hour, specifically from Nadovi to Buresala, with reduced cargo, at reduced speed and restricted to smooth waters……

The Counsel also produced an Inspection Certificate in Fiji dated October 1989 that made reference to the Ashika operating only on smooth waters. The witness (John Jonesse) was asked whether this raised concern on its suitability for Tongan waters, and he replied, yes if he saw it at the time. He was asked what he would you have done, and he answered he would have required a detailed inspection.

“Do you accept if the vessel was destined for smooth waters it was not suitable for purchase by Tongan Government to operate in open water,” the counsel asked.

The witness answered that it may have been, but a survey should have been carried out.

The counsel put to the witness that if the structure of the vessel was in poor condition as qualified in the reduced speed of vessel, “do you accept there was concern in Fiji that the vessel could cause a maritime disaster?’

The witness replied, no, and said he sighted a survey provided to him by Patterson Shipping (the vessel had been purchased from the Patterson Brothers in Fiji)

He was asked about the current survey he claimed to have sighted in Fiji expiring in June 2009, and he said he thought it was. It was put to the witness that the evidence was incorrect and false.

Earlier in the week Matangi Tonga stated Jonesse had confirmed “that the Ashika was purchased for only $600,000 Fijian, which was much less that what he told the SCP Board”