25 Feb 2010

Tonga's Karalus places Ashika onus on officials

4:22 pm on 25 February 2010

Tonga's former Transport Minister, Paul Karalus, has told the Commission of Inquiry into the sinking of the Princess Ashika that it was the responsibility of his officials to stop it sailing if it was unseaworthy.

Mr Karalus had resigned his portfolio a week after the vessel sank on August the 5th last year, claiming 74 lives.

Don Wiseman has more.

"Mr Karalus told the Commission he knew of the power to detain the vessel but says it was up to officials to do so, given their expertise. He says the acting director of Marine and Ports, Viliami Tu'ipulutou, was grossly derelict in his duty in declaring the ferry seaworthy, but he accepted the suggestion from Counsel Assisting the Commission, Manuel Varitimos, that as a government employee to do otherwise may have been difficult. Earlier in the inquiry Transport Secretary 'Eleni Mone, had attributed the sinking to a range of factors including the Ashika captain and crew, the Shipping Corporation of Polynesia Ltd which operated the ferry, Ministry staff, and Mr Tu'ipulutou. The Prime Minister, Dr Feleti Sevele, has told the inquiry the sinking wasn't due to a systematic failure of government bodies, but failures by individuals. Meanwhile the ferry's captain, Maka Tuputupu, has been arrested and charged with knowingly sailing an unseaworthy vessel."