A marine officer for Tonga's Marine Imports Division says the ferry Princess Ashika was falling apart several weeks before the disaster in August.
Sione Kavaliku was appearing before the Royal Commission of Inquiry investigating the sinking of the ferry, which claimed 74 lives.
Mr Kavaliku told the commission he visited the ship on 1 July, expecting it to be in a good condition but found rust and corrosion.
He says a hand rail on a ramp pulled away in his hands.
Mr Kavaliku also told the commission he believed buying the vessel was a waste of time and money, and it should never have sailed from Fiji.