Briton Dead, 40 Missing as Princess Ashika Sinks in Tonga

A British man was killed and 40 people, mostly women and children, were missing and feared dead after Pacific Ashika – an overnight inter island ferry – rolled and sank in open waters minutes before midnight on Wednesday, say reports citing officials on Thursday.

The sinking was reported to be in the vicinity of Tonga’s capital Nuku’alofa, the point of embarkation for over 96 passengers and crew headed for Ha’afeva island.

The Shipping Corporation of Polynesia, which operated the inter-island ferry, estimated there were 96 people on board. Tongan police conform the rescue of 55 survivors and say that one body, that of a British man, had been recovered.

Media reports citing survivors say, most of the missing were believed to be women and children who were asleep below decks when the vessel sank.

Police officials say that though, official documents show 79 passengers and crew, the exact number of people on board was still unknown.

New Zealand rescue centre, co-ordinating the search effort, says the Princess Ashika issued a mayday call at about 2300 hours Wednesday and sank about 86 kilometres northeast of Nuku’alofa.

Though, the cause leading to the capsize is yet to be ascertained, survivors told the media that the ferry had been rocked by big waves, and added that the cargo, including an ambulance and other vehicles, had shifted, causing the ferry to overturn.

They said that seven lifeboats flung into the sea were soon filled with male survivors and women and children were still inside the vessel when it sank.

Amid concerns over its seaworthiness, the 34-year-old Princess Ashika was scheduled to be docked in 2011, when it was to be replaced by a ferry currently under construction.

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