17 Dec 2009

Tonga port boss warns of risk of another shipping tragedy

3:33 pm on 17 December 2009

The Port Authority Manager in Nuku'alofa in Tonga says the country could face another marine disaster because a quarter of its current shipping fleet is unseaworthy.

Commander Lupeti Vi has told the commission of inquiry into the sinking of the Princess Ashika that his concerns about the safety of ships had been ignored by the Ministry of Transport on numerous occasions.

Jenny Meyer reports.

"Commander Vi says in his ten years as Port Authority Manager, the standards of safety of vessels in Tonga had deteriorated, and he had lost confidence in the the former Minister of Transport, Paul Karalus."

He told the commission there should be thorough inspections and sign offs by the owners and agencies such as the Port Authority, while crews should be fully qualified.

He says if there is no regulation to make sure these three actions work together, there will be a second disaster.

Commander Vi estimates five ships out of a fleet of 20 vessels currently operating in Tonga are unseaworthy and unsafe.

He told the Commission the Authority has spent thousands of dollars over legal action from a shipping company challenging the control and regulations of the port at Nuku'alofa.

He says after repeatedly expressing concerns about safety of vessels verbally and in writing to the Ministry of Transport, he had lost confidence in the integrity and credibility of ministry employees.

Commander Vi says he has also written to the Prime Minister to ask him to explain to the people why the Government bought such a boat and to apologise to them.