8 Aug 2009

Tonga's police commander says 85 people missing from ferry disaster

10:45 am on 8 August 2009

The number of people now unaccounted for after Tonga's ferry disaster has risen to 85 - 20 more than first thought.

Tonga's police commander, Chris Kelly, says it's believed there were 141 people aboard the Princess Ashika when it sank on Wednesday

54 people survived, and 2 bodies have been found.

Mr Kelly says it's believed there were 6 foreigners on the vessel, including a British man who'd been living in New Zealand.

New Zealand Navy divers in Tonga will use an automated undersea vessel in their search for the sunken ferry Princess Ashika.

Twelve divers and three specialists arrived in the capital Nuku'alofa on an Air Force Hercules shortly after midnight.

More than 60 people remain missing after the ferry went down on Wednesday.

The commanding officer of the team, Lieutenant Commander Andrew McMillan, says the automated vessel will survey the ocean floor before divers can go down themselves.

"The biggest issue is you got a vessel that's recently sunk, its going to be unstable potentially down there. So the guys got to be very careful that the environment that we are dealing with is a safe environment. They won't be going into the vessel till we are absolutely certain it is safe for them to do so."

Lieutenant Commander Andrew McMillan.

Tonga's Transport Minster says while the country is grieving for those who are lost at sea, there have been no signs of angry gatherings.

The Minister of Transport, Paul Karalus, is refuting reports of tensions rising as families wait for the bodies of loved ones and answers as to why the ferry sank.

The transport ministry has strongly denied claims the Princess Ashika was unseaworthy.

Mr Karalus says there is no sign of people congregating with any sense of anger.

This is a major tragedy, it's felt by everybody, it's not that people are saying that its the fault of anybody, it's something that we all feel and so the idea that there is major anger, is an idea that is being expressed by people who have other interests than seeking the truth of the matter

Paul Karalus says a top marine investigator from New Zealand is arriving tonight to begin the investigation.

The sister of the King of Tonga has offered the Royal Family's condolences while her brother holidays in Scotland.

Princess Pilolevu addressed the nation yesterday on state TV, offering her sympathy to the grieving families.

The editor of a local newspaper, Filo Akauola, says the King was told on Thursday morning by the acting prime minister that the vessel had sunk.

Mr Akauola says the acting prime minister rushed to the airport to tell the King of the tragedy but his holiday went ahead.

The Princess Pilovevu was on the television, asking the people for their prayers and give some condolence from the royal family on behalf of his majesty while he is overseas.

Filo Akauola says the ferry was bought by the Tongan government for seven hundred thousand dollars.