16 Sep 2009

Claims of secret night repairs to fated Tongan ferry

3:33 pm on 16 September 2009

Allegations have surfaced that the fated Tongan ferry Princess Ashika was repaired at night to stop people from querying its seaworthiness.

The claims, reported in Tonga's Kele'a newspaper, stem from a letter written by the head of the Ports Authority to the Prime Minister on August the 11th.

A Royal Commission of Inquiry is underway into last month's ferry sinking, which claimed 74 lives.

Our correspondent in Tonga, Mateni Tapueluelu, says Commander Lupeti Vi claims the vessel was not fit even to sail from the main wharf to a resort island a kilometre away.

"As the CEO of the Port Authority he should have been informed in writing if there was going to be any welding within the port because it is dangerous but he was not informed like so in fact he told him the vessel was welded in the night and he's saying that this was probably a way of hiding just how rusty the vessel was."

Mateni Tapueluelu says photographs accompanying the letter show big holes in the ferry.

He says the letter warns the Prime Minister of possible bloodshed if the photographs are made public.