NUKU'ULOFA, Tonga— Tongan police have charged three people with manslaughter in the death of one of 74 passengers who died last year in a ferry sinking that shocked the tiny South Pacific country.
Police Commander Chris Kelly said on Friday that charges had also been laid against ferry operator the Shipping Corp. of Polynesia for allegedly taking an unseaworthy ship to sea.
The charges — against corporation managing director John Jonesse, ferry captain Makahokovalu Tuputupu and first mate Viliami Tu'ipulotu — relate to the death of just one passenger aboard the ferry. Other charges may be laid later concerning other passengers, Kelly said.
The ferry Princess Ashika sank last Aug. 5 with 128 people on board when it overturned in stormy seas about 55 miles (86 kilometers) northeast of the capital, Nuku'alofa — one of the tiny South Pacific's country's worst disasters. Fifty-four people survived.
Only two of the victims' bodies were recovered because the hull was in water too deep to for conventional divers to reach it.
"At this point police investigations have sufficient evidence in respect of the Shipping Corporation and operational management of the Princess Ashika," Kelley told a news conference.
"The sending and taking of an unseaworthy ship to sea relates to those directly involved in daily operations and includes the operator, the Shipping Corporation."
Kelley said the charge of manslaughter by negligence referred to the death of, 21-year-old mother Vae Fetu'u Taufa, the only Tongan passenger whose body was recovered after the sinking. Scottish-born Daniel McMillan's body was the only other one retrieved.
Kelley said the police investigation is separate from a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the sinking which is due to report April 1. (AP)