Monday, August 17, 2009

Tonga ferry disaster missing toll cut to 73

NUKU'ALOFA — The number of people believed missing and presumed drowned in the Tongan ferry sinking earlier this month has been cut to 73 from 93, police said Tuesday.

"Tonga police can confirm 54 survivors, two deceased persons located, and 73 persons are now known to have been on board and remain unaccounted for," Tongan police commander Chris Kelley said in a statement.

The 34-year-old Princess Ashika was 86 kilometres (53 miles) northeast of the capital Nuku'alofa en route to Ha'afeva, in the outlying Nomuka islands, when it sank moments after issuing a mayday call around midnight on August 5.

The cause of the sinking has not been determined but allegations have been made the ferry, which started service in early July after being bought from Fiji, was unseaworthy.

Police said detailed checking had resulted in the number of missing being reduced, with 67 having been confirmed as being on board and another six names -- including five foreigners -- still to be finalised.

Meanwhile, a New Zealand naval team using a remotely controlled camera formally confirmed Tuesday that the wreck discovered last week on the seabed 110 metres below the surface was the Princess Ashika.

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