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Four convicted over ferry disaster

Four men have been found guilty of manslaughter over the sinking of a packed passenger ferry in Tonga - one of the South Pacific nation's worst disasters, it has been reported.

The captain and first mate of the Princess Ashika, the former chief of the company that operated the ship, and the department head that signed a seaworthiness order for the vessel were found guilty of manslaughter by negligence by a supreme court jury, the Matangi Tonga news website said.

They face a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

Justice Robert Schuster ordered the men to be held in police custody until sentencing on Monday.

The August 5 2009 sinking of the Princess Ashika with 74 passengers aboard shocked Tonga, a genteel South Pacific nation of more than 175 islands that relies heavily on ferries to transport people and goods between atolls.

The ship went down in stormy seas late at night, as most of the passengers slept below decks. Only two bodies were recovered.

An extensive inquiry concluded the ship was unseaworthy and should not have been in service, triggering a scandal in the country over who authorised the purchase of the vessel.

Those convicted were John Jonesse, a New Zealander and former managing director of the Shipping Corporation of Polynesia that operated the ferry; its captain Makahokovalu Tuputupu and first mate Semisi Pomale; and the acting director of the government Marine and Ports Department, Viliami Tu'ipulotu.

They were charged with the manslaughter of Vae Fetu'u Taufa, a 21-year-old mother whose body was one of the two recovered after the disaster in deep waters off the main island of Tongatapu.

The shipping company also faced a range of charges relating to responsibility for the seaworthiness of the ferry, and was found guilty by the same jury.


From Belfast Telegraph