JURY SELECTED IN TONGA FERRY DISASTER TRIAL

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Four charged with manslaughter in 2009 sinking

NUKU΄ALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Feb. 7, 2011) - A Jury of three women and four men from Tongatapu was selected this morning in the Nuku'alofa Supreme Court to try four men and the Shipping Corporation of Polynesia (SCP) charged with manslaughter by negligence in the sinking of the Princess Ashika ferry in 2009, in a trial that is expected to last for a month.

Over 100 people had gathered for jury selection at 9:30 am in the Parliament House, which is used as a court out of session, and within an hour three women and four men from Tongatapu were selected by ballot. A few potential jurors who declared connections with the parties in the trial were rejected.

Mr. Justice Robert Shuster instructed the jury to try the case from only the sworn evidence given in court and not to speak to others, including the police, media, family or friends.

The defendants are former SCP Managing Director John Jonesse, the Ashika Captain Makahokovalu Tuputupu, First Mate Semisi Pomale, Acting Director of Marine Viliami Tu'ipulotu and the Shipping Corporation of Polynesia Ltd. who collectively face about 30 charges.

John Jonesse, a New Zealander, is the only one charged with forgery in relation to an Audit Report by David Shaw dated April 2009 and knowingly dealing with a forged document. He is also charged with sending an unseaworthy ship to sea. Jonesse, who is on bail, was refused permission by the courts to leave Tonga when his family returned to New Zealand last year.

The SCP and the captain pleaded not guilty this morning to six charges each. The charges against the other accused have yet to be read to the court.

The trial will run from 9:30am to 4:30pm on week days, continuing tomorrow with the Crown prosecutor making his opening submission before the Crown starts calling and expected 30 witnesses.

The Crown Prosecutor is 'Aminiasi Kefu (Solictor General), assisted by, Senior Crown Counsel Sione Sisifa.

Defence counsel include, Laki Niu representing John Jonesse; Sifa Tu'utafaiva representing Captain Makahokovalu Tuputupu and First Mate Semisi Pomale, and Peau Pifeleti representing Acting Director of Marine Viliami Tu'ipulotu and Vuna Fa'otusia representing the Shipping Corporation of Polynesia Ltd.

This morning the Crown withdrew 10 counts each against the Captain of the Ashika and the Shipping Corporation of Polynesia Ltd. The withdrawn charges were five counts for sailing without a loadline certificate (one for each voyage) and five counts for sailing without a safety certificate (one for each voyage).

The six charges remaining against the captain include one charge of manslaughter by negligence and five counts for taking an unseaworthy ship to sea.

The six charges remaining against the SCP are one charge for manslaughter by negligence and five counts for sending an unseaworthy ship to sea.

The manslaughter by negligence charge relates to the death of young mother, Vae Fetu'u Taufa - who was one of only two bodies recovered in the tragedy at sea.

In August 2010 the Supreme Court of Tonga approved the issuing of death certificates for 50 deceased whose lives were lost when the ferry rolled over and sank in the middle of the night on a voyage from Tongatapu to Ha'apai,, These were in cases were affidavits were made stating that the person had boarded the vessel.

In total some 74 lives were lost in the sinking.

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