15 Aug 2009

Divers unable to recover bodies from Tonga ferry

10:08 pm on 15 August 2009

The New Zealand Navy has made it clear its divers will not be able to lift any bodies from the wreck of the ferry that sank last week, despite the arrival of the navy ship Manawanui on Saturday.

The Princess Ashika capsized on 5 August about 90km northwest of the capital Nuku'alofa. Two bodies have been recovered and 93 people are missing presumed dead.

HMNZS Manawanui will be used as a platform from which to deploy a remote operated vehicle when weather clears to give visual confirmation of the wreck presumed to be that of the ferry. That is not expected to happen until Monday.

Some relatives of those lost, presumed drowned, are said to be preparing burial plots, believing that the remote operated vehicle will be able to recover their relatives from inside the ferry.

Lieutenant Commander Andrew McMillan has had to reiterate that the New Zealand and Australia dive teams do not have capability to lift bodies from the wreck and the arrival of the Manawanui will not change that.

Lieutenant Commander McMillan says his crew is humbled that some relatives have expressed fear for the Navy divers' safety and has assured them the divers will not be placed in danger.

He says HMNZS Manawanui has battled rough conditions on its journey from New Zealand.

Service held for victims and families

Tonga's Police Commander Chris Kelley told a service for victims and their families in Nuku'alofa on Friday there can be no further survivors, other than the 54 people already found.

The service was attended by Tonga's Princess Regent and Crown Prince, Prime Minister Feleti Sevele and other government ministers, Defence Service staff and the family of a missing Japanese national.

Mr Kelley told those gathered he was addressing them with a heavy heart and everyone that could be rescued has been.

He says he has been advised that anyone in the water will not have survived after nine days and a comprehensive aerial search has been completed.

Mr Kelley also stressed that New Zealand and Australian divers cannot reach the wreck and a remote vehicle will not be able to enter the ferry.

NZ investigators prepare to work on inquiry

New Zealand has assembled a six-strong team in Tonga to work on a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the sinking of the Princess Ashika.

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission team, which will work on the inquiry, includes two master mariners and an engineer.

It will start work on its investigation when the Royal Commission is fully up and running, and until then will make initial contacts and familiarise itself with the situation.

The team was called in because the Attorney-General of Tonga says his country does not have the technical expertise and resources to conduct such a big inquiry.

An Australian serving as a Supreme Court judge in Tonga has been appointed to head the Royal Commission.