19 Nov 2009

Water entered Tonga ferry several times, inquiry told

3:38 pm on 19 November 2009

A crew member on the Tongan ferry which sank in August has told an inquiry water had entered the ferry on previous voyages.

Uasike Tupou was appearing before the Royal Commission investigating the sinking of the Princess Ashika, in which more than 70 people died.

Mr Tupou said a couple of inches of water entered the vessel's cargo hold during its first and third voyages in Tonga following its arrival from Fiji in July.

He said after the vessel's second voyage he saw a hole more than 1.5m wide on the port side, and that sheet metal was welded to the area to cover it.

On the fourth voyage water was about 1m deep in the cargo hold, light cargo began to float and the ferry tilted heavily, he told the inquiry. Crew punched holes in the side of the ferry to help water flow out.

Mr Tupou said that on the fifth voyage he was awoken seven minutes before the ferry sank, and only heard a warning over the loudspeaker to be prepared about a minute before the sinking.