2 Apr 2010

MP calls for resignations over ferry sinking report

8:29 pm on 2 April 2010

A pro-democracy MP in Tonga is calling on the government to resign following a damning royal commission of inquiry report into the sinking of the ferry Princess Ashika.

The inquiry, which presented its report to the King of Tonga and the country's Privy Council on Wednesday, says there was a systematic failure by the government in buying a ship that was unseaworthy.

Akilisi Pohiva says the report implicates all the government's ministers and "they should all resign because we have got more than enough evidence, which clearly stated in the report that they all failed in carrying out their duty.

"And if they refuse to do that, then ultimately it is the responsibility of his majesty to do the right thing, and the right thing is to get them to resign."

The MP says the king should appoint an interim government to govern until an election in November.

Failed to conduct proper due diligence

Seventy-four people died when the rust-ridden ferry capsized before sinking off the capital, Nuku'alofa, last August.

The 600-page report says that the Princess Ashika was not seaworthy and that processes followed in its purchase were unsound. It says the government failed to conduct proper due diligence.

It recommends the Tongan marine sector employ people with maritime experience, and says people with the right qualifications, experience and integrity should be appointed as officers of the Shipping Corporation of Polynesia.

The Tongan government says it will discuss the report next week.

Careful not to incriminate anybody

Radio New Zealand International's correspondent in Nuku'alofa, Mateni Tapueluelu, says that although the commission's two key terms of reference were to identify criminal or civil liability, the commissioners have been careful not to incriminate anybody.

They do, however, say the government hd systemically failed in all areas relating to the buying of the ferry.

The report singled out the Cabinet and the prime minister - who chairs the Cabinet - as well as a former government minister who "knowingly made false statements to a number of authorities" that resulted in the purchase of a "rustbucket".

Former Shipping Corporation of Polynesia boss John Jonesse, the ferry's captain and its first mate have been charged over the sinking. A charge of manslaughter has also been brought against the corporation.

Relatives angry at wait

Relatives of those who died in the tragedy are upset they must wait until next week to see a copy of the report.

Sonia Puleheloto, who lost a niece, says making people wait is a disgrace. She believes those who lost loved ones are entitled to have the report at the same time as the king.