17 Dec 2009

NZ asked to buy Ashika for Tonga, documents show

4:13 pm on 17 December 2009

It's been revealed that New Zealand was asked to buy the Princess Ashika, several months before the Tongan ferry sank on August the 5th, killing 74 people.

Documents obtained by Radio New Zealand under the Official Information Act show Tonga wanted New Zealand aid money to buy the ship as a stopgap while it awaited the delivery of a new vessel.

The request was made in April this year: it stated that the Ashika was seaworthy, having been surveyed in a dry dock in December 2008.

Tonga wanted the Ashika to serve the outer islands, as an existing ship was a safety concern and a replacement was not to arrive until 2011.

The documents reveal the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade initially considered the purchase a good aid project.

However, officials then expressed concern at funding a 37-year-old vessel for just two years of service.

The documents also state the ministry felt Tonga itself could afford the ship.

A Royal Commission of Inquiry into the sinking of the Ashika continues in Tonga.