13 Aug 2009

Bad weather in Tonga makes it difficult to identify ferry

12:31 pm on 13 August 2009

Bad weather is continuing to hamper the divers' efforts to conclusively identify a ferry that sunk in Tongan waters.

The Princess Ashika went down about 86 kilometres northwest of Tonga's capital, Nuku'alofa, eight days ago.

While two bodies have been recovered, 93 people remain unaccounted for and are presumed dead.

New Zealand navy divers yesterday found what they believe to be the Princess Ashika, but can't be certain that it is the ferry until remotely operated equipment can be used to give visual confirmation.

The dive team head, Lieutenant Commander Andrew McMillan, says the team won't be able to do anything today.

"The weather conditions continue to be poor up here, just looking out the window now there is a lot of wind around that's going to prevent us conducting our operation."

The Tongan government hasn't said whether it will seek help from deep sea specialists in other countries to retrieve bodies from what's thought to be the wreck of the ferry, Princess Ashika.

Meanwhile, five family members of missing Sisilia Puleheloto, a 23 year old who was the first female officer to represent Niue in an overseas mission with RAMSI, have arrived in Tonga hoping to bring her body home.

One relative, Bryan Atasani, says information has been hard to come by.

Our main concern is just getting updates on Sisilia herself and hopefully getting some good news that they have recovered something from the actual boat.

Meanwhile, a marine salvage company owner says it will cost the Tongan government hundreds of thousands of dollars a day to recover bodies from a sunken ferry in its waters.

Bill Day, owner of marine surveying and recovery company Seaworks, says a salvage operation will cost several million dollars.

Meanwhile, members of the Tongan community in Auckland say the Princess Ashika should be raised as part of a thorough investigation into its sinking.

A community leader, Sefita Haouli, says the Tongan government may have to look to outside help for funding and equipment.