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Negligent manslaughter in death of passenger

NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, March 26, 2010) – TONGA Police have today charged three people and the Shipping Corporation of Polynesia Ltd. with manslaughter by negligence, in relation to the death of a young mother Vae Fetu'u Taufa (21), who was one of the 74 people who lost their lives last August in the sinking of the Princess Ashika ferry.

SCP Managing Director John Jonesse; the Ashika Captain, Makahokovalu Tuputupu; and the First Mate of the Ashika, the Acting Director of Marine and Ports, Viliami Tu'ipulotu, along with the Shipping Corporation of Polynesia Ltd. the ferry operator are additionally charged with sending and taking an unseaworthy ship to sea.

Police Commander Chris Kelley in meeting with the local press on March 26 announced the action taken by police as part of an ongoing process.

He said the three charges made under the Criminal Offences Act and the Shipping Act are manslaughter by negligence, sending an unseaworthy ship to sea and taking an unseaworthy ship to sea; against, the SCP Ltd. as a corporate body, the Managing Director John Jonesse, Makahokovalu Tuputupu, and Viliami Tu'ipulotu.

"At this point police investigations have sufficient evidence in respect of the Shipping Corporation and operational management of the Princess Ashika.

"The sending and taking of an unseaworthy ship to sea relates to those directly involved in daily operations and includes the operator, the Shipping Corporation."

He said the charge of manslaughter by negligence refers to the death of a woman, Vae Fetu'u Taufa (21) whose body was the only Tongan recovered after the sinking.

Charges in relation to Daniel McMillan the European male whose body was recovered, and the 72 persons unaccounted for and presumed dead, would be laid in due course once legal aspects had been completed, said the Commander.

In relation to Jonesse and Ashika Captain Tuputupu, the new charges are in addition to their existing charges. Jonesse had earlier been charged with forgery while the captain was charged with five counts of taking an unseaworthy ship to sea knowing it was unseaworthy.

Cmdr Kelley pointed out that the decision to lay charges in relation to the Ashika disaster was one for the Police Commander alone.

In the meantime, the aspects of ownership, operation and maritime responsibilities were being considered and decisions whether or not to prosecute would be made on evidence and legal opinion.

Commander Kelley stressed that at no point since the tragedy occurred had anyone given the police directions or tried to influence the course of their inquiries.

"I believe it is in the public interest that where prima facie evidence exists to prefer charges and that this action be carried out without delay."

He stressed the importance for the public to note that the police investigation was totally separate and independent from the Commission of Inquiry.

He said since January 1, 2010 a specific taskforce under his command had been assessing evidence, obtaining legal opinions and making recommendations to further action as required.

Police are continuing their investigation into all aspects of the tragedy and were gathering further evidence and seeking legal opinion on fault of all persons.

"I would keep the public informed in respect of Operation Ashika, as it is my responsibility to inform the public of any significant decisions made by police," said the Commander.

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