Seven years after the MV Princess Ashika sank, Prime Minister ʻAkilisi Pohiva says there is still time to bring those responsible to justice, but the government does not have the money to pursue the case.
The Prime Minister said it was a criminal case and there was no time limit on when the government could proceed with legal action.
“I believe we can still proceed with it if we have the money,” he said in Auckland on Tuesday.
Hon. Pohiva said there was enough evidence to file a lawsuit. The government had spent a lot of money on the case.
A great deal of information from inquiries and investigation had already been recorded.
The Prime Minister said his government wanted to reopen the case, but the government’s present commitments meant they were too busy to take legal action immediately.
“This prosecution could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Hon. Pohiva said.
He said any such prosecution might require two lawyers.
Hon. Pohiva was responding to a question from a concerned Tonga at a meeting in South Auckland who asked whether the government could bring those responsible to justice.
Seven years ago today, on August 5, 2009, the ill-fated vessel sank north of Nuku’alofa, claiming 74 lives.
There were 54 survivors.
The ship sank just before midnight. Eyewitnesses said it capsized in a few minutes after water started seeping into the lower decks.
Neither the bodies nor the vessel could be recovered, although the searchers were able to locate them and took video footages and digital photographs.
The government later announced it would halt further attempts to salvage the ship because it would cost up to $TP1 million.
The dead passengers included all the women and children on board. Of the victims, 13 were aged under 10 and three were infants. The oldest victim, Fifita Taufo’ou, was 77.
Some people were charged and jailed after the tragedy, including the captain of the vessel Makahokovalu Tuputupu, Acting Director of Marine and Ports Viliami Tu’ipulotu and John Jonesse the Managing Director of the Shipping Corporation of Polynesia Ltd, which owned the vessel,
Critics said the prosecution should have brought to justice everybody involved including the then Prime Minister Lord Sevele who was accused of being instrumental in bringing the doomed vessel to Tonga.
Lord Sevele was reported as saying he didn’t think the vessel’s seaworthiness was responsible for its sinking.
The Royal Commission into the sinking said the Tongan government failed to have independent due diligence conducted and that the former Minister of Transport made inaccurate and unsubstantiated statements to a number of authorities, which resulted in the purchase in June 2009 of the ship, which was described in evidence as a “rust bucket.”
According to the report, the government allowed the ferry to sail despite it being clearly unseaworthy, with questions about its seaworthiness having been raised as far back as 1985.
“It was scandalous that such a maritime disaster could ever have been allowed to occur. It was a result of systemic and individual failures,” the report said.
The main points
- Seven years after the MV Princess Ashika sank, Prime Minister ʻAkilisi Pohiva says there is still time to bring those responsible to justice, but the government does not have the money to pursue the case.
- The Prime Minister said because it was a criminal case and there was no time limit on when the government could proceed with legal action.
- “I believe we can still proceed with it if we have the money,” he said in Auckland on Tuesday.
- Seven years ago today, on August 5, 2009, the ill-fated vessel sank north of Nuku’alofa, claiming 74 lives.
For more information
Princess Ashika sinking (Tagata Pasifika)