Sunday, April 3, 2011

[pima.nius] Tonga: Ashika verdict – all guilty, behind bars awaiting sentence

12:28 PM |

Tonga: Ashika verdict – all guilty, behind bars awaiting sentence



Pacific Scoop:
Report – By Taimi Media Network in Nuku'alofa

The jury found all four men accused in Tonga's 2009 Princess Ashika ferry tragedy guilty of manslaughter yesterday after deliberating for nearly 11 hours.

The men – including New Zealander John Jonesse – were behind bars last night awaiting sentence next week.

The jury foreman delivered the guilty verdict on all 27 charges about 10.20am.

Princess Ashika disaster ... all accused guilty. Photo: TNews

Justice Robert Schuster remanded all the defendants in custody for their sentencing on Monday. He did not grant bail to anyone saying: "This is a serious matter and this is my domain now and no bail."

This was the biggest criminal trial in the kingdom of Tonga. The men face a maximum of 10 years in prison.

Convicted were Jonesse, chief executive of the Shipping Corporation of Polynesia, operator of the Princess Ashika; Viliami Tu'ipulotu, Acting Director of the Ministry of Marine and Ports; Ashika captain Makahokovalu Tuputupu; and first mate Semisi Pomale. The fifth comvicted was the Shipping Corporation.

The corporation was charged on six counts, one of manslaughter by negligence and five of sending an unseaworthy ship to sea.

Company convicted
The company, together with all the defendants, except first mate Pomale, had been charged with sending and taking an unseaworthy ship to sea in all five voyages of the Princess Ashika since it was brought from Fiji, including the final ill-fated one.

John Jonesse

Shipping Corporation of Polynesia managing director John Jonesse: Found guilty. Photo: TMN

John Jonesse was charged on eight counts, one of manslaughter by negligence, five for sending an unseaworthy ship to sea, one count of forgery, and one count of knowingly dealing with forged documents.

Skipper Tuputupu was charged with six counts, one of manslaughter by negligence, and five for taking an unseaworthy ship to sea.

Viliami Tu'ipulotu was charged with six counts, one of manslaughter and five for sending an unseaworthy ship to sea.

Pomale was charged with only one count of manslaughter by negligence.

Justice Schuster asked the foreman if this was their unanimous verdict, and he answered yes.

He also ordered the Shipping Corporation's counsel, Vuna Fa'otusia, to submit a financial report of the corporation dated today and also one dated 5 August 2009 – the day of the ferry sinking.

29 witnesses
The trial of the four men and the Shipping Corporation started on February 11.

The prosecutor called 29 witnesses, along with exhibits of documents and photos of the Princess Ashika.

The defendants opted to remain silent.

The jury of three women and four men started their deliberation at 3.15 pm on the final day of the trial, finally reaching a unanimous verdict after 10am yesterday.

In contacting families of victims who lost their lives when the Princess Ashika sank, Anga'aefonu Sulaki, whose daughter along with her husband and two daughters lost their lives on this tragic day, cried and told Taimi 'o Tonga newspaper: "I'm very happy and satisfied with the outcome of the jury trial.

"My son just told me that all the accused were found guilty. Yes, I feel for them and their families, but at the same time it's a comfort for us families for it is their fault that the Ashika sank.

"They knew the boat was unseaworthy but they still went and bought it and it killed our loved ones," she said.

The  Princess Ashika sank at 11.55pm on the morning of Thursday, 5 August 2009, killing 74 people. Only 2 bodies were recovered and the rest are still unaccounted for.

All women and children perished as they were sleeping on lower decks.

Crown Prosecutor was the Solicitor-Genera,l 'Aminiasi Kefu, assisted by Sione Sisifa, and James Lutui.

The defence counsel were Vuna Fa'otusia for the Shipping Corporation, Laki Niu for Jonesse, Sifa Tu'utafaiva for Tuputupu, 'Ofa Pouono for Pomale, and Peau Pifeleti for Tu'ipulotu.

Defence counsel for the Shipping Corporation Vuna Fa'otusia and Peau Pifeleti for Viliami Tu'ipulotu.

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pacific islands media association
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aotearoa, new zealand
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