10 Aug 2009

Bad weather halts search for Tongan ferry

11:06 am on 10 August 2009

New Zealand navy divers working in Tonga have called off their efforts to find the sunken Princess Ashika until at least tomorrow.

The divers are now on their way back to the capital because of bad weather.

From Nuku'alofa, Kim Baker Wilson reports.

"Divers have been able to deploy their unmanned explorer to search an area about half a mile wide and half a mile long to search for the ferry. As yet, nothing's been found. The device was programmed this morning to search a wider area, but increasingly bad weather means that's not possible today or tomorrow.Lieutenant Commander Andrew McMillan is heading the Navy team. 'The intention is to bring the patrol craft back alongside so that the team can rest, recuperate, program their missions for when the weather abates. That's likely to be no earlier than tomorrow night.'The police in Tonga say their figures of 149 people on board the Princess Ashika and 93 missing are unchanged, but could well rise again. The commander, Chris Kelley, is still loathe to call off the search for survivors. 'Things are unknown, best I can do is reassure people that every effort is being made to relocate the vessel, every effort has been made to rescue survivors, every effort has been made to try and recover any bodies.' But the navy says it's very unlikely its divers will be able to recover any bodies in the ferry, if it is found under more than 50 metres of water."