Friday, August 14, 2009


The Tongan Government brought a heap of junk. It knowingly bought the Ferry Princess Ashika a rusty bucket of disaster waiting to sink, that’s according to the Fijian Government.

According to the Fijian Government, it de-registered Princess Ashika in May this year, a month before it was sold to Tonga. Fiji carried out a sea-worthiness survey of the ship, prohibited the vessel from servicing within Fiji waters and approved it, for one last trip between Levuka to Suva. Presumably this final voyage was to be its death march. But rather than scrapping the vessel it was instead sold in a private deal (so the Fijian Governments says) to Tonga in June-July.

Tongatapu is a tiny nation made up of 169 Islands 39 of which are populated. They are King and God faring people they are a poor nation. But its monarchy are hugely wealthy.

Princess Pilolevu, 54, became a multi-millionaire by helping herself to a sovereign asset, Tongasat. She effectively holds the right to geostationary satellite orbits.

Prince Tupouto'a, 56, has linked up with Tongan-Indo-Fijian businessmen brothers, Joe and Soane Ramanlal, and taken over electricity generation and the mobile phone company. He already has a brewery and according to insiders is now looking to seize Tongasat from his sister.

Tonga tapu is a kingdom of have’s and have not’s.

I grew up in Tonga. My father built the Queen Salote Wharf in 1963-66 in Nukualofa. I still have whanau ties in the Kingdom. So the Ferry Princess Ashika tragedy is very close to my heart.

My friend and a great Photographer John Miller from Auckland put it in perspective for me by comparing the magnitude of tragedy in terms of scale; if it happened in NZ relative to our population of 1.4 million we would have lost 3,400 people and of that number 1,462 would have been women and children. In this Tongan tragedy 33 women and 10 children aboard were aboard and none of them survived.

There were 119 presumed on board although 149 names appear on the manifest and some of these names are duplicated. 54 men were rescued. 2 bodies recovered, one of them Vaefetu'u Mahe - she was 22, but her 3 year old baby and husband are presumed drowned. The other is Daniel Macmillan a Brit living in NZ for the past 5 years.

NZ, Australia and Japan will contribute to a new ferry. Independent inquiry ordered, likely to get NZ help. Royal commission of inquiry will publish findings end of November.

There’s a march and memorial service for the victims of the Princess Ashika to be held on the wharf near the Maritime Museum here in Auckland 10am, August 23. Flowers will be placed in the water. Everyone is welcome to attend.

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