Sat, Aug 08, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Sixty-six feared dead in ferry accident near Tonga

AFP , NUKU’ALOFA

Survivors of Princess Ashika, the ferry that sank 86km northeast of Tongan capital Nuku’alofa, pray after their arrival at Fu’amotu airport yesterday.

PHOTO: REUTERS

A total of 66 people, including many women and children, are feared dead after a ferry capsized off the waters of Tonga, rescuers said yesterday.

There were 53 survivors, two bodies have been recovered and at least another 64 people were missing, search and rescue coordinator John Dickson said after a revised manifest increased the number on board from 79 to 119.

There were six foreigners on board the 34-year-old Princess Ashika, including British, German, French and Japanese nationals.

Tongan police said the lack of accurate records meant the number of missing could be higher.

Tongan Prime Minister Feleti Sevele has asked New Zealand and Australia to send navy divers to help recover bodies from the sunken ferry, saying there was little chance of finding more survivors.

“The hopes for the rest are not promising, unfortunately,” he told journalists in Australia, where he was attending a meeting of Pacific leaders.

“It’s a very sad day ... it’s big for a small place. This is a huge disaster, a huge loss, we’ll try and cope with it as best we can,” he said.

The ferry has been found in 35m of water, prompting Sevele’s request for divers to help in the recovery of bodies.

The Princess Ashika, en route from the Tongan capital Nuku’alofa to outlying Ha’afeva island, rolled and sank in high waves just before midnight on Wednesday about 86km northeast of Nuku’alofa.

Tongan police commander Chris Kelley told a press conference yesterday there was difficulty reconciling the numbers on board the Princess Ashika, with 15 of the survivors not even on the passenger list.

“We believe a more accurate manifest was on board and was lost so there could have been more persons on board who have not been identified,” he said.

The 64 missing included 21 women and seven children who were sleeping below decks when the ferry sank.

Dickson said a New Zealand Air Force Orion resumed sweeps over the disaster area yesterday morning and was directing rescue vessels on the water.

Orion pilot Nathan McMaster said it appeared there was adequate safety equipment on the ferry “and it was certainly a factor in saving as many people as they have.”

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