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Condolences come two weeks after sinking

NUKU΄ALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, August 19, 2009) - Almost two weeks after the sinking of their vessel, MV Princess Ashika the Chairperson and members of the board of the Shipping Corporation of Polynesia Ltd. made a first public statement on August 17, expressing their condolences and sympathy to families who have lost members.

At the same time SCP Chairperson, ΄Alisi Taumoepeau, confirmed, that by endorsing the set up of a Royal Commission of Inquiry, they were legally bound not to make any comments on the seaworthiness or causes associated with the vessel until an investigation is completed and findings made available.

΄Alisi was asked a number of questions by journalists during a press conference:

"Was there a Certificate of seaworthiness? Why did the ferry sink? Is there insurance?"

But Alisi simply said she could not comment because of the inquiry.

The Royal Commission of Inquiry into the sinking of the MV Princess Ashika that will look into the circumstances and causes of the sinking is made up of three commissioners and chaired by Mr. Justice Warwick Andrew of the Supreme Court of Tonga.

The Attorney General’s Office in a press statement on August 13 said the Commission was required to make its inquiry and furnish to the King in Council and the Legislative Assembly its interim report or reports as quickly as possible no later than 30 November 2009, and their final report no later than 31 March 2010.

"We are committed to providing information to the Royal Commission of Inquiry and when the investigation is completed its findings will be made known to everyone. And we are fully confident that an independent inquiry will be carried out and we await the result of the investigation," she said.

΄Alisi accompanied by board member Rev. Tevita Haukinima and SCP Managing Director John Jonesse, said the board, management and staff of the Shipping Corporation of Polynesia would like to express their sadness at the tragic accident of the MV Princess Ashika and conveyed that they shared the pain, grief and loss of the nation.

She said since the night of August 5 they had been providing support to both survivors and the families of the missing passengers and crew members, and they would continue to provide support for as long as it was required.

Support has been in the form of providing food to families who are camping outside the SCP office in tents, grief counseling, and the managing director briefs families daily on the search operation, she said.

"We also have a church minister to talk and pray with families and I think that is the most we can do at this stage," she said.

΄Alisi stressed that this tragedy was as difficult for them as it is for everyone in Tonga. "We have a very small nation of 100,000 people and about 100 people are lost at sea, which just about touches everybody in the country. And we are just taking it one day at a time and we ensure that our support is ongoing for as long it is needed and just walk with the people," she added.

Meanwhile, the Commander of Police Chris Kelly in a press conference earlier on August 17 said that the search and rescue operation may officially come to an end at the end of the week.

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