10 Aug 2009

Bodies from Tonga ferry disaster may never be recovered

3:02 pm on 10 August 2009

Tonga's police chief has warned that the bodies of almost 100 people presumed dead after the Princess Ashika sank in Tonga may never be found.

At least 93 people remain missing, presumed dead, after the Princess Ashika went down in rough seas late on Wednesday night.

The latest figures show 54 people, all men, were rescued from life rafts, and just two bodies, one of Briton Dan MacMillan and the other of an unidentified Tongan woman, have been found.

All 33 women on the boat are believed to have drowned along with 10 children, as all were sleeping on the lower indoor decks when the ferry "quickly and quietly" slipped into the sea.

The other missing include 37 men and a further 15 of an unknown gender and age.

A team of 16 specialist Royal Australian Navy clearance divers were unable to locate the boat in the first day of searching on Sunday.

Tonga's police commander Chris Kelley says despite good visibility and conditions, depths of over 100 metres kept the dive team from reaching or even siting the sea bed.

He warns there is a good chance that the ship and the bodies of those missing may never be found.

Mr Kelley says the dive team has quite sophisticated equipment, and the depths involved vary, but people need to be very cautious about expectations.