22 Aug 2009

Tongan ferry salvage unlikely, say police

7:05 am on 22 August 2009

Police in Tonga have indicated it is unlikely a salvage operation will be launched to recover either the Princess Ashika or the bodies it is thought to contain.

The ferry sank on 5 August, 90 kilometres northwest of the Tongan capital Nuku'alofa. Fifty-four people survived, 72 are unaccounted for and two bodies have been recovered.

The air and sea search for the ferry was officially ended at 12pm on Friday local time. New Zealand Navy personnel have left Tonga.

Tonga's police commander, Chris Kelley, says other countries with sophisticated equipment are unable to carry out any salvage or body recovery because of the depth at which the wreck has settled. The ferry is sitting at 110 metres below sea level.

Mr Kelley says the use of private companies could take weeks or months and cost millions of dollars, with no guarantee for the families of a complete recovery.

The Tongan government will ultimately decide what happens next. Mr Kelley says he has been advised a decision is due soon.

Whatever the decicision, Mr Kelley believes the sanctity of the site should be preserved.