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Tuputupu said he didn’t think ‘Ashika’ would sink

NUKU΄ALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Nov. 23, 2009) – In Nuku‘alofa, Tonga, captain Viliami Makahokovalu Tuputupu gave evidence on November 19 and said he knew the MV Princess Ashika was unseaworthy but sailed anyway, because he relied on information from the Marine and Ports Division to state the vessel was not good to operate, but at the same time he never believed it would sink on August 5.

The captain who slept for over four hours was not awakened until five minutes before the vessel sank just before midnight on August 5, told the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the sinking, he did not stop the vessel from its sailing because someone high could over-ride his command, but agreed he had the power to stop it.

The captain first gave evidence on Thursday November 19 and confirmed that from July 3 to August 5 he knew the vessel was unseaworthy because it had no draft and could tell the corrosion of the hull and inside the cargo deck when first seeing it in Fiji.

He also confirmed that on Ashika's previous trips prior to August 5, water came through the vessel and there many holes punctured by waves. And at one point in the fourth voyage in July a crew had to punch side of the vessel to let water out and another incident saw the vessel stopping in the middle of the ocean because the engine died.

He said the vessel's rudder could turn only 15 degrees each way instead of the 40 degrees necessary to allow it to turn and avoid danger. The rudder was never fixed. Nevertheless, he confirmed that he did not try to stop it apart from telling Jonesse that repairs were required.

On being questioned by the Assisting Counsel to the Commission Manuel Varitimos, he agreed that from 3 July and 5 August he knew the vessel was unsafe.

The counsel put to him, he was still prepared to sail because no one had stopped him, and the captain said he had to sail, he was not the authority to stop the sailing.

"But you were the captain of the vessel from the beginning of July to 5 August and you had a duty, a paramount duty, I suggest to ensure the safety of the passengers and crew," said the counsel. The captain agreed.

The captain confirmed he went to sleep in his cabin at 7pm during the final voyage on August 5 and was not awakened by the chief mate until five minutes before the vessel sank before midnight. At this time the vessel was rolling from one side to the other but more to the port side.

He said he went to the bridge and was told there was water in the vessel and this was about five minutes before the vessel sank.

"I wanted to slow down the sinking of the boat by asking crew to try and pump out water from where it was, at the same time I tried to tune up the radar to see if any island was close to the vessel and it was only Nomuka but it was too far away, about 10 to 11 miles."

[PIR editor’s note: Nomuka or ‘Otu Mu‘omu‘a is part of the Nomuka group of islands within Tonga’s kingdom situated on the southern part of Tonga. Population is approximated at four to five hundred people.]

"At the same time engine room called and said water was there but it was too late as water splashed around the flywheel on the port side of the engine room."

He said he announced to passengers to pick up their lifejackets and come up to the top and also told one of the crew to tell passengers personally, but he was told that they just stood there and watched him.

"When the vessel sank I was on the bridge deck and when it turned completely upside down and was sinking I was still holding the radio-calling mayday and I was drowned on the bridge. But managed to touch the frame of the door and swam out," said the captain.

When he was asked why so many died, he said that people did not understand what was going on during the time and when the crew warned people to come up they just stood and watched him.

But then the passengers were never instructed on any emergency exits or shown how to put on lifejackets and were they were kept put the counsel, and the captain said, yes.

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