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TONGA’S CROWN PRINCE CALLS FOR CLOSURE Seeks unity following country’s worst disaster

By Kalafi Moala HONOLULU (Pacific Islands Report, August 21, 2009) –Tongs's Crown Prince, His Royal Highness Prince Tupouto’a Lavaka, tried to bring closure to Tonga’s worst marine tragedy by asking those that have been rescued and the families of those unaccounted for, "to remember and to celebrate . . . life."

At a special memorial service held at the Free Wesleyan Church at his village estate of Pea, the Crown Prince urged national unity and togetherness. "I pray, and appeal to you all – that now is the time to put aside differences. Now is the time to work together," he said.

Rev. Dr. ‘Ahio, the President of Tonga’s biggest denomination, the Free Wesleyan Church, presided over the well-attended memorial service that included the Prime Minister, Dr. Feleti Sevele, and other Ministers of the Crown; Speaker of the House, Hon. Tu’ilakepa, and other members of Parliament, as well as those rescued and the families of those unaccounted for, friends and relatives.

The Crown Prince said, "we remember those whose lives were lost on the Princess Ashika, but at the same time we celebrate those that were saved. Not all was lost."

This attempt to bring closure has come as the NZ Navy and their Tongan counterpart concluded their search and video taping of the wreck and remains of the sunken vessel.

Commander Chris Kelly of the Tonga Police, in thanking Lt. Commander Andrew McMillan and the captain and crew of HMNZS Manawanui for their support and assistance in the search for the Princess Ashika, said: "we have undertaken our rescue operation, search processes and resources deployment to maximise the response capability available to us over the last 14 days . . . I consider we have exhausted all likelihood of finding survivors and in that respect I believe the families of the 72 persons unaccounted for can complete closure for their loved ones."

At a special reception after the church memorial service, representatives of each family affected by the Ashika tragedy gave tearful and heart-moving speeches, accepting the fact they need to bring closure and move on in their lives.

Crown Prince Lavaka, a former Prime Minister, is now Tonga’s High Commissioner to Australia. He said, "In times of national crisis nations are forged and defined."

The final confirmed figures stand at 54 rescued, 2 recovered dead, and 72 unaccounted for, presumed dead. It is believed that this is the greatest disaster Tonga has suffered since the influenza epidemic of 1918.

The Crown Prince lamented: "Memories are all we have of those loved ones. Those memories perhaps show the fragility of life; and that we should always treat those close to us as if we will not see them again."

A Royal Commission of Inquiry has been appointed and has started its work, which will include the analysis of the one and half hours of video from the wreck of the Princess Ashika and the surrounding area.

The families of the victims, as well as those rescued responded warmly to the call by the Crown Prince for closure.

Maka Taliuku, a relative of one of the victims, and a ‘talking chief’ in his own right, spoke for the families of those unaccounted for: "We thank you your Royal Highness for your humility in meeting with us, and organising this service… We will go from here and pick up our belongings at the shipping office by the wharf, and we will disperse to our various homes, thankful that on this day, we have accepted the reality of the situation… we are satisfied, and we will return to our homes bringing closure to our grief for our loved ones."

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