28 Jan 2010

NZ boss admits partial blame for ferry disaster

8:00 pm on 28 January 2010

The New Zealand businessman who bought the Tongan ferry Princess Ashika has admitted he is partially to blame for its sinking.

A Royal Commission of Inquiry is being held after 74 people died when the ferry capsized and sank off Tonga in August last year.

John Jonnesse, the chief executive of the Shipping Corporation of Polynesia, gave evidence at the inquiry on Thursday.

Pesi Fonua, a journalist covering the inquiry for Matangi Tonga Online, says that, for the first time, Mr Jonnesse answered criticism that he gave an unreliable assessment of the boat's seaworthiness.

Mr Jonnesse told the inquiry that he did not do a good job and was partially to blame for the sinking of the ferry.

Fonua reports that in the past, Mr Jonnesse has said his responsibility was limited to checking if the boat's motor worked, not gauging its general seaworthiness.

Board told ferry in 'good condition'

Earlier, the inquiry was told that Mr Jonnesse told the shipping company's board that Princess Ashika was seaworthy.

Former Shipping Company of Polynesia board chairman Alisi Taumoepeau said Mr Jonesse presented a paper saying the ferry was a good buy at $F600,000.

Ms Taumoepeau said the shipping company's board assumed Mr Jonesse was telling the truth and was happy with the report which also stated the Princess Ashika had double the capacity of the ship it was replacing.

She says the board did not ask for an independent survey of the ferry, nor did it question its price.

Ms Taumoepeau conceded the board lacked the information to make an informed decision to buy the ferry and should have taken more care prior to the purchase.