11 Nov 2009

Tonga inquiry told of more concerns about Ashika

10:43 pm on 11 November 2009

A senior marine officer has testified to Tonga's Royal Commission investigating the sinking of the Princess Ashika that he had serious concerns for the safety of any passengers who boarded it.

The ageing vessel sank in August, killing 75 men, women and children.

Lou Pale from the Ministry of Transport marine division told the inquiry that the vessel should have been detained and stopped from operating.

He said the vessel was hopelessly unseaworthy when he surveyed it in early July, and would have taken at least six months to repair.

He agreed the large amount of rust on the ferry was clearly evident to anyone walking on it.

Mr Pale said he had serious concerns the cargo deck could be flooded if the bow and stern ramps were not made watertight, and that if scuppers weren't repaired, water would not be able to escape from the vessel.

Mr Pale says he does not remember if he told acting marine director Viliami Tu'ipulotu the vessel was unseaworthy, but that he already knew because he had seen the ferry himself.