7 Feb 2011

Relief for captain of Tonga's Ashika ferry after some charges dropped as trial opens

7:38 pm on 7 February 2011

The lawyer for the captain of the ill-fated Princess Ashika says his client is relieved a number of charges have been dropped.

The manslaughter trial of four men has begun in Tonga, 18 months after the deaths of 74 people.

The captain, Maka Tuputupu, was to defend 16 charges but this were reduced by the Crown to six this morning.

His lawyer, Siosifa Tu'utafaiva says his client is relieved and happy.

The Shipping Corporation of Polynesia, which operated the ferry, also had ten charges dropped.

They were technical charges relating to safety and loadline certificates.

Mr Tu'utafaiva says at this stage he is not planning to call any of his own witnesses in the Supreme Court trial.

But he says this could change depending on what evidence is presented by prosecutors.

New Zealander, John Jonesse, is among the four accused men who could be jailed for up to 25-years if convicted.

The Crown will open its case tomorrow morning before a seven-person jury.