17 Sep 2009

Tongan port chief says ferry was unseaworthy

4:18 pm on 17 September 2009

The head of a Tongan advocacy group says a letter by the head of the country's port authority asserting that the ferry Princess Ashika was unseaworthy confirms widely held suspicions.

The letter was sent last month by Commander Lupeti Vi to the port authority's chairman, Tongan Prime Minister Feleti Sevele, after 74 people died when the ferry sank.

Radio New Zealand International reports that the anti-establishment newspaper Ke'lea published the letter. It says welding repairs to the ferry were conducted at night without the necessary permission - suggesting a desire to conceal how rusty the ferry was.

Warning of bloodshed if families learn the truth

The letter also warns of bloodshed if the victims' families learn the truth about the boat's unseaworthiness.

The implication of the letter is that, contrary to assurances by the Prime Minister, the vessel was uninsured.

The executive director of the Tonga National Centre for Women and Children, Ofa Guttenbeil-Likiliki, says the royal commission of inquiry into the sinking will find the letter hard to ignore.

Commander Vi says the letter was never meant for the public. He says what he wrote was the truth, but he is not happy it was published.