The sentences handed down to four men for their parts in the 2009 Princess Ashika tragedy may be appealed by the Crown and the shipping company.
New Zealander John Jonesse, the former head of the Shipping Corporation of Polynesia (SCP), was jailed yesterday for five years for manslaughter, sending an unseaworthy ship to sea, forgery and dealing with a forged document.
The ship’s captain Maka Tuputupu was handed a four year jail term but will serve only six months after being convicted of manslaughter by negligence in relation to the death of Vaefetu’u Mahe, 22, the only Tongan whose body was recovered after the sinking, and of sending an unseaworthy ship to sea.
Viliami Tu’ipulotu, a former director of Tonga’s Ministry of Transport, was handed a three year suspended sentence after also being convicted of manslaughter and sending an unseaworthy ship to sea.
The ship’s first mate Semisi Pomale was jailed for five years but will serve 18 months in jail on a manslaughter conviction.
The Crown has indicated that it would look at an appeal.
“So the bottom line is he has to serve six months. Pomale was sentenced to five years altogether, but he is to serve one and a half years and three and a half years is suspended. We need to sit down and properly consider it, but an initial perception of it, there seems to be some kind of inconsistency in sentence,” Tonga’s Solicitor General and Crown Prosecutor Aminiasi Kefu said.
The Government-owned Shipping Corporation of Polynesia was ordered to pay $1.4 million in fines but company lawyer Vuna Faotufia said it was wrong of the court to use a recent British case as a benchmark in deciding the fine.
“You cannot charge someone more than he could or she could be able to pay. That is an injustice in itself. And the company itself is about to fold. The reason the company is still in operation is just for this case,” Mr Faotufia said.
The company would appeal the fine, Radio New Zealand reported.
Meanwhile, New Zealand-based Tongan man Alani Taione who lost friends in the ferry sinking in August 2009 said the sentences handed to three of the men were a joke.
“To me the families will be very unhappy with that, they should serve at least for five years,” he said.
Mr Taione said he had not been confident of getting stronger sentences as he had little confidence in the Tongan justice system.
Supreme Court Judge Robert Shuster said Jonesse had shown no remorse over the loss of the Princess Ashika ferry in August 2009.
“I accept you have no shipping experience, I accept you are a management person but, frankly, you led a shambles of an organisation,” Judge Shuster told Jonesse during sentencing, Agence France Presse reported.
“You are the one person here who showed no remorse nor (offered) any explanation.”
The Princess Ashika was on a voyage from Nuku’alofa to an outlying island when it sank, trapping passengers, mostly women and children, below deck in the country’s worst maritime disaster.
The six-week trial heard evidence that the ship, built in the early 1970s, was riddled with rust holes and poorly maintained.
The SCP bought the Princess Ashika three months before the sinking and it was on its fifth voyage when it went down.
Survivors at the time recalled water building up in the cargo hold before the ferry lurched violently and sank with little warning.
Judge Shuster said passengers on the ferry were not told where life jackets were located or where they should gather if there was an