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Four face up 25 years in prison for negligence

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, Feb. 27, 2011) - The trial of four men accused of manslaughter in Tonga's Princess Ashika ferry sinking that killed 74 people is into its third full week.

The four men on trial are New Zealand businessman, John Jonesse, ship captain, Makahokovalu Tuputupu, first mate, Semisi Pomale and former Minister of Transport, Viliami Tu'ipulotu.

They each face up to 25 years in jail if convicted.

The company that owned the Ashika, the Shipping Corporation of Polynesia, is also on trial.

Engineers who took the stand had already warned the Ashika was not in a good condition.

[PIR editor’s note: Matangi Tonga reports, "New Zealand engine mechanic David Shaw, who inspected the main engines of the ferry, told the Supreme Court in Nuku'alofa that he never signed an Audit Report nor authorized anyone to do so." He explained to the court he had warned John Jonesse the vessel needed repairs.]

The trial is expected to take at least another two weeks to reach a conclusion.

The Princess Ashika sank in August 2009 while on an overnight voyage from Nuku'alofa to an outlying island.

Five foreign nationals on board [included] a Japanese crewmember and two French and two German passengers.

Survivors at the time recalled water building up in the cargo hold before the ferry capsized around midnight, trapping sleeping passengers below deck.

An inquiry into the sinking described the incident as "scandalous" and found there was a lack of due diligence by the shipping firm and government when the ferry was bought.

The Princess Ashika, built in the early 1970s, was on its fourth voyage in Tonga when it sank.

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