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Ashika tragedy still fresh in Tongan minds

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (Radio New Zealand International, Oct. 3, 2011) – The head of a non-government organization, Drew Havea, in Tonga says he’s shocked that a man convicted for his role in the Princess Ashika sinking has walked free after serving just six months in jail.

[PIR editor's note: John Jonesse was among four charged in the tragic sinking of the Ashika. The men were initially convicted of 30 charges, including one count of manslaughter each for Jonesse, the ship’s captain, the ship’s first mate and a former director for the Ministry of Transportation in Tonga.]

John Jonesse headed the Shipping Corporation of Polynesia, which operated the ferry whose 2009 sinking caused the death of 74 people.

He was convicted on eight charges including manslaughter by negligence and was initially sentenced to five years jail, but on Friday the Court of Appeal reduced his sentence.

[PIR editor's note: Jonesse was also charges with sentences of four years imprisonment with each of the five counts for sending an unseaworthy ship out, although these were also revoked in favor of the three-year, six-month suspended sentencing.]

Serving as current Chair of the Civil Society Forum of Tonga, Havea says [the decision] may upset some people.

"I’m very surprised and shocked because Jonesse only served six months. I don’t think it will sit very well with families, particularly I think when we look at it; the six months doesn’t seem right for such a disaster and a situation where 74 lives were lost."

Jonesse’s sentence was reduced to three and a half years, with the remaining three years suspended.

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