7 August 2009: 8.30am
A Royal New Zealand Airforce (RNZAF) P3 Orion resumed searching at first light today for survivors of the sinking of the inter-island ferry Princess Ashika, near Nuku’alofa, Tonga.
Two people have been confirmed dead, while 53 survivors have been picked up since the ferry sunk about 46 nautical miles (86km) north west of Nuku’alofa, late on Wednesday evening.
A total of 117 people were believed to have been on board the ship, leaving 62 unaccounted for.
Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) search and rescue mission coordinator John Dickson said a planned search by rescue vessels overnight was stood down due to concerns over low visibility.
Three vessels have resumed the search today and would be following directions from the trained observers on the P3 Orion.
“There is still a significant amount of debris in the water, and we will be targeting those areas.
“Clearly survival rates after this length of time are of concern, but we remain hopeful of finding more survivors.”
RCCNZ launched the rescue response after the Maritime Operations Centre (New Zealand Maritime Radio) picked up a mayday call from the Princess Ashika just before 11pm on Wednesday. A few minutes later, RCCNZ received a distress beacon alert from the vessel, which was heading from Nuku’alofa to Ha’afeva, in the Nomuka Islands group.
It is understood the ferry rolled sharply and sunk very quickly. The reasons for the sinking are unknown at this stage.
Conditions in the area have deteriorated since the search commenced. Water temperatures are around 25 degrees Celsius.
A further update will be provided as any new information comes to hand.
For further information contact:
Maritime New Zealand Media Line
Phone 04 499 7318