10 Nov 2009

Mechanic says captain slept as water filled Ashika

7:30 pm on 10 November 2009

A survivor from the Tongan ferry Princess Ashika has told the Royal Commission of Inquiry into its sinking the captain was sleeping as it filled with water.

The ageing vessel sank in August, killing 74 men, women and children.

The Matangi Tonga newspaper says boat mechanic Tangimana Lemoto was on the bridge for the final hour of the sinking.

Mr Lemoto said after Captain Maka Tuputupu was woken up, he saw him go into the wheelhouse and make mayday calls.

Five minutes later, the boat had sunk.

Mr Lemoto said when he boarded the ferry he saw how attempts had been made to chip away corrosion.

Mr Lemoto said during the sailing he saw water coming through both sides of the bow ramp and timber used to prevent vehicle wheels moving began floating in the water.

He said the ship began rocking five hours after sailing, while the Tongan capital Nuku'alofa was still in sight.

Mr Lemoto said the ferry tilted towards starboard for 20 minutes before sinking.