21 Nov 2009

Tongan ferry captain testifies

8:07 am on 21 November 2009

The captain of the Tongan ferry Princess Ashika says he sailed the ship the night it sank despite believing it was unseaworthy, because no-one had instructed him not to.

Viliami Makahokovalu Tuputupu was appearing before the Royal Commission investigating the sinking of the vessel, in which 74 people died, in August.

He said that even when he saw photos of the Princess Ashika, well before it arrived in Tonga, he could tell it was very old and rusty, making him believe it was unfit for Tongan waters.

However when he raised his concerns with the then managing director of the Shipping Corporation, John Jonesse, he was told it would be fixed.

Mr Tuputupu told the commission that on the first four voyages, holes were being punched into the side of the vessel by the waves.

But he said the marine department had not given him notice to stop sailing and he relied on its judgement.

An interim report from the Royal Commission is due on 30 November.