NEW ZEALAND SEARCH VESSEL ARRIVES IN TONGA

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Friends, relatives mourn at dockside

NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, August 16, 2009) – A NEW Zealand navy vessel the HMNZ Manawanui arrived in Tonga at the weekend with a support team to assist in the reconnaissance of the sunken ferry MV Princess Ashika in the Ha'apai Group.

Tonga's Police Commander Chris Kelley said on August 14, that he hoped the Manawanui could commence operations on Monday 17 August 2009.

"The HMNZ Manawanui will try to establish formal identification of the vessel by reading the name plate and they will also support the Royal Commission of Inquiry."

HMNZ Manawanui arrived in Tonga at the weekend

On Friday he said that weather conditions had been a significant factor in the search and rescue operation and the Australian and New Zealand dive teams had returned to base following their operations.

"I pay tribute to my staff in the Tonga Police for their time and effort working non stop without days off in this operation. I also acknowledge the Tonga Defence Services Navy, the Australian and New Zealand Navy who have worked tirelessly in this operation," he said.

He released another 20 names of the confirmed passengers who were on board the Princess Ashika, bringing to 57 the number of names so far released. See list at end of this article.

"We will continue with this operation once the weather has abated at the same time on land our investigations continue. We will continue to work our way through confirmations of passengers on board and release details as they become available, Cmdr Kelley said.

Meanwhile, groups of mourners, continue to hold prayer services and vigils at Queen Salote Wharf and outside the Shipping Corporation of Polynesia Ltd. offices.

On Saturday morning, July 15, a group of about 100 people left the Catholic church at Ma'ufanga and marched to the Queen Salote Wharf where they held a tearful prayer service at the last mooring of the MV Princess Ashika. After flowers were thrown into the sea, the group marched to the offices of the Shipping Corporation of Polynesia Ltd. where they joined families who have been keeping a vigil there.

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