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Tonga: Royal Commission Report on Princess Ashika Ferry Disaster

(Apr. 19, 2010) The Tongan government stated on April 9, 2010, that it accepts the recommendations of the Royal Commission that was established to inquire into the August 2009 sinking of the Princess Ashika ferry in which 74 people were killed. (Press Release, Government of Tonga, Statement on Ashika Royal Commission Report (Apr. 9, 2010), available at

The Royal Commission's 630-page report was presented to the King of Tonga and the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly on March 31, 2010. (REPORT OF THE ROYAL COMMISSION OF INQUIRY INTO THE SINKING OF THE MV PRINCESS ASHIKA [hereinafter Report] (Mar. 31, 2010), available at
.) The Commission found that the Tongan government failed to have independent due diligence conducted and that the former Minister of Transport made inaccurate and unsubstantiated statements to a number of authorities, which resulted in the purchase in June 2009 of what was described in evidence as a “rust bucket.” (Id. at viii-xiii.) According to the report, the government allowed the ferry to sail despite it being clearly unseaworthy, with questions about its seaworthiness being raised as early as 1985. (Id. at i.) “It was scandalous that such a maritime disaster could ever have been allowed to occur. It was a result of systemic and individual failures,” the report said. (Id. at iv.)

The report set out a number of recommendations for improving maritime safety in Tonga. (Id.at587-593.) The government said that it would address all of the recommendations as soon as possible. (Press Release, supra.)

The Royal Commission heard testimony from 87 witnesses during its hearings, including survivors, government ministers, officials, and crew members. (Report, supra, at6-11.) Transcripts of the hearings and other documents are available on the Royal Commission's website (

The Attorney General of Tonga has also appointed two Crown lawyers from Australia and New Zealand as special prosecutors to advise on and pursue criminal charges arising from the disaster. (Press Release, Attorney General of Tonga, IAP Nominates Two Special Prosecutors for Tonga (Apr. 15, 2010), available at Manslaughter charges have recently been laid against the chief executive of the company that operated the ferry, along with the skipper and first mate. (Kiwi Charged After Tonga Ferry Disaster, STUFF, Mar. 27, 2010, available at
.) Tonga's Royal Commissions Act provides that any evidence given during the inquiry is not admissible in criminal or civil proceedings. (Royal Commissions Act (Cap. 41), § 9, Pacific Islands Legal Information Institute website, (last visited Apr. 15, 2010).)